Ford insisted on an honest museum, even if history was sometimes unflattering





GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- With clean architectural lines and a broad glass front facing the Grand River, the building is a fitting reflection of the man -- open and without pretense.

On a breezy, sun-splashed day in September 1981, the former president stood before 40,000 people on a grassy slope in downtown Grand Rapids and spoke from his heart. Stretched out before him was a crowd that included celebrities, prime ministers and presidents.

"The high point of my life, next to meeting Betty ... is always ahead," Gerald Ford said that morning. "And today it is here, in my hometown and among my friends."

And with that, the doors of the Gerald R. Ford Museum swung open.

On hand were then-President Reagan, leaders of Mexico, Canada and Japan and national and state political leaders. But this edifice was built for the public more than the VIPs. This place meant enough to the Fords that he and Betty decided to be buried in a plot just north of the museum.

"This museum had great meaning for President Ford. It always has," said Richard Norton Smith, former executive director of the Gerald R. Ford Foundation and former director of the Ford Museum.

More than that, Smith said, Ford never tried to steer museum exhibits away from controversy or moments in his presidency that could have been embarrassing. He wanted it to reflect history -- warts and all....


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