I’m fuzzy about dates when anything happened while I was in high school. I wanna say the Palm Springs trip with my volunteer Big Brother Lloyd Miller took place in the summer of 1980 — in fact now that I think about it I’m as certain as I can be in part because I was 16 and had my learner’s permit and on the drive down was sooooo hoping Lloyd would pull his spiff 1979 Cadillac Seville over and let me take the wheel for a bit down the 10 Freeway, but he didn’t and I was too chicken to ask.

I do know without a doubt that Christopher Cross’ “Sailing” was topping the charts because you couldn’t not hear it on the radio. In fact, whenever I hear that song now instead of being transported to some seaside, I’m instead taken back to poolside of the desert condo we were staying in with not a boat anywhere nearby and the sun dancing on the water and the extreme heat and the sweat and the luxury as Cross via a nearby transistor radio chirped about where his paradise could be found.

I’d found mine, too.

On our way to go get breakfast the next morning, we were traveling down some side road bordered by a tall stucco’d wall on the other side of which was a private golf course. It was Lloyd who noticed the helicopter hovering over the course and I had no idea why he suddenly pulled off the road onto the dirt shoulder, pulling up tight against the wall.

Hopping out he answered my quizical look with “You wanna see a president?” Dutifully and still clueless I clambered across the seat and out the driver’s side door. Lloyd was already climbing up onto the Seville’s trunk. “I think Gerald Ford is golfing on the other side of this wall!” he said conspiratorially to my still dumbstruck expression.

So I climbed up, too, and together we stood up poking our heads over the top of the wall. Sure enough about 100 feet away there was Former President of the United States Gerald R. Ford, standing on a green bent over his putter.

The next thing we noticed was the large number of secret service agents stationed in a perimeter around the president. They noticed us as well and did not take at all kindly to our univited proximity. In fact in a sudden burst of radio chatter static, the ones closest to the president interrupted his concentration by positioning themselves between us and him (and the hole), and as Ford stood up to see what all the commotion was about, the agents closest to us started coming even closer. Quickly.

I’d like to say that I or Lloyd yelled out “Hello Mr. President!” or “Have fun golfing President Ford!” and that he smiled and waved, but what happened was Lloyd grabbed my shoulder and pulled me down and said “Time to go!” and we hopped off the trunk dove back into the Caddy and we went. Fast and clean leaving behind several agents straddling the top of the wall and eating our dust.

I tell that story not just because Gerald Ford died yesterday or because that’s the closest I’ve ever been to one of this nation’s leaders, but also because he is and always will be one of my favorite presidents — and here’s why: Because at one of the most disenchanting and most disheartening and most disgraceful times in this country’s history he stood up unelected and all alone in front of the beat-up country that had little confidence in him and even less in its political processes and said he we were down but we were not out. He said he believed our country had never been stronger.

“Our Constitution works,” he said, upon taking the oath of office on August 9, 1974. “Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men.”

Then with quiet dignity and strength and leadership he showed us he was right.

One of the first things he did was give Richard Nixon a get-out-of-jail-free card. Sure, initially I thought that was a bad call. I was angry with what I thought was a major-league backroom-brokered chickenshit cop out. I wanted blood. The country did. But Ford said it’s time to look forward, not back. It took awhile, but later I came around to agree with his choice, or at least his reason for it: that it was time for the country to move on.

We did and now he has too. Rest in peace, President Ford. You were one of this nation’s greatest and finest public servants.

The complete text of Ford’s swearing-in speech appears after the jump.

Mr. Chief Justice, my dear friends, my fellow Americans:

The oath that I have taken is the same oath that was taken by George Washington and by every President under the Constitution. But I assume the Presidency under extraordinary circumstances never before experienced by Americans. This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts.

Therefore, I feel it is my first duty to make an unprecedented compact with my countrymen. Not an inaugural address, not a fireside chat, not a campaign speech–just a little straight talk among friends. And I intend it to be the first of many.

I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your President by your ballots, and so I ask you to confirm me as your President with your prayers. And I hope that such prayers will also be the first of many.

If you have not chosen me by secret ballot, neither have I gained office by any secret promises. I have not campaigned either for the Presidency or the Vice Presidency. I have not subscribed to any partisan platform. I am indebted to no man, and only to one woman–my dear wife–as I begin this very difficult job.

I have not sought this enormous responsibility, but I will not shirk it. Those who nominated and confirmed me as Vice President were my friends and are my friends. They were of both parties, elected by all the people and acting under the Constitution in their name. It is only fitting then that I should pledge to them and to you that I will be the President of all the people.

Thomas Jefferson said the people are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty. And down the years, Abraham Lincoln renewed this American article of faith asking, “Is there any better way or equal hope in the world?”

I intend, on Monday next, to request of the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate the privilege of appearing before the Congress to share with my former colleagues and with you, the American people, my views on the priority business of the Nation and to solicit your views and their views. And may I say to the Speaker and the others, if I could meet with you right after these remarks, I would appreciate it.

Even though this is late in an election year, there is no way we can go forward except together and no way anybody can win except by serving the people’s urgent needs. We cannot stand still or slip backwards. We must go forward now together.

To the peoples and the governments of all friendly nations, and I hope that could encompass the whole world, I pledge an uninterrupted and sincere search for peace. America will remain strong and united, but its strength will remain dedicated to the safety and sanity of the entire family of man, as well as to our own precious freedom.

I believe that truth is the glue that holds government together, not only our Government but civilization itself. That bond, though strained, is unbroken at home and abroad.

In all my public and private acts as your President, I expect to follow my instincts of openness and candor with full confidence that honesty is always the best policy in the end.

My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.

Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule. But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice but mercy.

As we bind up the internal wounds of Watergate, more painful and more poisonous than those of foreign wars, let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and of hate.

In the beginning, I asked you to pray for me. Before closing, I ask again your prayers, for Richard Nixon and for his family. May our former President, who brought peace to millions, find it for himself. May God bless and comfort his wonderful wife and daughters, whose love and loyalty will forever be a shining legacy to all who bear the lonely burdens of the White House.

I can only guess at those burdens, although I have witnessed at close hand the tragedies that befell three Presidents and the lesser trials of others.

With all the strength and all the good sense I have gained from life, with all the confidence my family, my friends, and my dedicated staff impart to me, and with the good will of countless Americans I have encountered in recent visits to 40 States, I now solemnly reaffirm my promise I made to you last December 6: to uphold the Constitution, to do what is right as God gives me to see the right, and to do the very best I can f or America.

God helping me, I will not let you down.

Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 12:05 p.m. in the East Room at the White House following administration of the oath of office by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger. The oath of office and the President’s remarks were broadcast live on radio and television.  The White House announced that Richard Nixon’s letter of resignation as 37th President of the United States was tendered to Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger in his White House office by Assistant to the President Alexander M. Haig, Jr., at 11:35 a.m.