On December 26, 2006, Gerald Ford, the 38th President of the United States died in Rancho Mirage, CA. The next day I received an email from a reporter from the Winter Haven News Chief who found out I had an occasion to meet President Ford when I was a reporter in central Florida. This is what appeared in the paper.
Former Polk Radio News Reporter Interviewed Ford In 1980s
By Diane Nichols
News Chief staff
It was only a sliver of time that took place decades ago, yet Tom Anthony, a former Polk County news reporter for radio station WQPD-AM in Lakeland, remembers those minutes well.
It was his first big interview since joining the Top 40 station, but with no news reporting experience to speak of, it made the moment a challenge. Still, coming face-to-face with former President Gerald Ford was the brass ring for even the most seasoned of journalists.
“He made it easy,” Anthony said Wednesday, the day after Ford’s death at the age of 93. “I expected him to be stand-offish, but he went out of his way to answer my questions. He was very personable.”
It was the early 1980s when Ford held a press conference at a Polk County airport to address the topic of his 1974 pardoning of former President Richard Nixon. Secret Service Agents made it difficult for any of the reporters and photographers to get very close, yet Anthony remembers being one of the lucky ones.
“I remember standing right near to him while he took a good 15 minutes with the media,” Anthony said. “I was pleasantly surprised at how warm and nice he was. He seemed to care and offered follow-up information to us for any additional details we may have needed.
“It was a different experience than when I met Jimmy Carter during my career. He (Carter) had a reputation for being so down to earth and friendly, but that sure wasn’t the case. Former President Ford was really great.”
Anthony retired from the radio industry in 1996 and opened a Web development business. He is married, with one child and now lives in Virginia Beach, Va.
His radio career started in 1974 at WBAR in Bartow while he attended Winter Haven High School. During the next few years, Anthony worked as a personality on many Polk County stations, including WZNG, WSIR and WGTO in Winter Haven and WIPC in Lake Wales. In 1976, Anthony took a job at WHAN in Haines City and then went on to land the gig of doing the news with WQPD in Lakeland in 1979.
“When I was sent out to this press conference, it was not what I expected,” Anthony said. “Former President Ford actually joked to the media about his reputation for being goofy. He talked about how he fell on the steps to Air Force One and that (the television show) “Saturday Night Live” made that into such a huge thing. He came across like a very intelligent man. I’m glad God blessed him and he was able to enjoy life as long as he did.”
Although Ford’s decision to pardon his predecessor may have doomed the 38th president’s chance for a full term in 1976, Anthony had a different take on it.
“I feel during that press conference, that former President Ford made it clear that he pardoned Nixon for the good of the country,” Anthony said. “He knew it was a painful time for Americans and he wanted the nation to move on from the resignation of Nixon and the scars of Vietnam.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t think he was recognized enough for helping our country to heal from those things.”
I first published this in my personal blog in March, 2008