It was 1972, and I was a producer-still-hoping-to-be-a-reporter in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Long-time Congressman Jerry Ford was campaigning for what would be another shoo-in re-election in November, and he brought in a national heavy-hitter to carry the water for him. Welcome to Grand Rapids, Republican National Chairman Bob Dole, Senator from Kansas.
So at the obligatory (even in those days) news (not "press") conference The Kid asks a question about this "Watergate" break-in thing. Something along the line of "Golly, gee whiz, your holy high honorableness, whaddaya make of these guys sneaking around in that there office building, huh, whaddaya, whaddaya?"
That's when it happened.
Remember, Senator Dole was a World War II hero. He lost the use of his right hand in the war. That's why he always clutched a pen, to downplay the awkwardness as people tried to shake his hand.
As I remember it, Dole (spry for an older guy) vaulted over the podium in a single bound and tried to stab me in the jugular with the pen! Spittle was spraying from the corners of his down-turned mouth, and he was growling something about "third-rate break-in" and "running-dog media lackeys" and "This one's for Spiro." I felt the hot breath of hell and knew I was about to die.
And that's when Jerry Ford stepped forward and stepped in, feeding raw meat to the snarling beast while at the same time performing CPR on my near-lifeless form. .
At least that's the way I remember it. Others might think that Dole simply turned his famous temper loose and teed off on a dumb rookie reporter, and that Ford recognized it as overkill and stepped to Dole's side at the podium to prevent The Kid (with whom he had had dealings before) from being made to look like the uninformed fool he was.
Truth is, The Kid was the "unarmed man" in this battle, and Jerry Ford was just having mercy.
And that's why I always thought of Jerry Ford as the most honorable politico I've ever met: a decent man.
I'm no historian, but my guess is that decades from now the history books will record that there were two (and only two) GOOD MEN who held the presidency in the last half of the 20th century: Harry Truman and Jerry Ford. I was saddened the day President Ford died, but I also couldn't help smiling. He kept Bob Dole from killing me.