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Mitch Coon of Hartselle with a letter from former President Gerald R. Ford dated Nov. 16, 1976. Coon was Ford's Morgan County campaign manager.
Daily photo by Ronnie Thomas
Mitch Coon of Hartselle with a letter from former President Gerald R. Ford dated Nov. 16, 1976. Coon was Ford's Morgan County campaign manager.

Hartselle GOP worker treasures Ford letter

By Ronnie Thomas 340-2438

HARTSELLE — Mitch Coon said she and her husband, Lee, sat in their Hartselle home Tuesday and watched the entire televised funeral for Gerald R. Ford, the nation's 38th president.

"We cried through the whole thing," Mitch Coon said. "I guess older people do that."

But for Coon there's more to it. Although she never met Ford, who died Dec. 26 at age 93, she felt a long-lasting association with him.

She served as Ford's campaign manager for Morgan County during his unsuccessful bid for a full presidential term in 1976.

"That's probably the reason he lost," she said.

Coon treasures a letter from Ford dated Nov. 16, 1976, thanking her for her effort and signed "Jerry Ford" in his hand.

"In future years, as you look back upon your experience during this campaign, I hope that you will remember the days when we were more than 30 points behind in the polls and political observers had written off our campaign," Ford wrote. "We never gave up. Together we managed one of the greatest comebacks in American history."

Georgia Democrat Jimmy Carter narrowly defeated Ford.

Coon said she actually wanted California Gov. Ronald Reagan to win the Republican nomination that year.

"I thought Reagan was more conservative," she said. "Ford was an appeaser. He didn't want to fight Russia. He wanted to be able to co-exist with them. I didn't think we could co-exist with a government like that."

Still, Coon said, Ford was a "dear man" who developed into a "wonderful leader" during the short term he had after Richard Nixon stepped down from the presidency in disgrace Aug 9, 1974.

Coon says while much of the nation disagreed with Ford's pardon of Nixon a month later, she agrees with historians who now say he did the right thing.

"He knew that pardoning Nixon was the only way the country could have moved forward," she said. "Nixon was just a bad crook. He didn't know how to break the laws successfully."

Coon said because Nixon had "so frazzled" the Republican Party, campaigning for Ford was an uphill battle because the National Republican Committee lacked funding and organization.

"We didn't have enough money to buy bumper stickers," she said.

"What are you to do in an election without a bumper sticker?"

Coon said she and other Republicans started the first GOP newsletter in Morgan County in an effort to take up the slack.

"The NRC finally sent a few bumper stickers, but it was too late to do much about it," she said.

"I've still got one somewhere here around the house."

Coon said she always will recall what an honest man Ford was and that he had a lot of integrity.

"It is hard to find anything bad to say about him," she said. "For the most part, he was a shining example of what the presidency should be."

Tripped and fumbled

She also remembers Ford's reputation as a bumbler because he tripped and fumbled at the most inopportune times. Forget that presidential watchers consider the former center on The University of Michigan football team as the nation's most athletic chief executive.

"Even my letter, although obviously typed by a secretary, carries Ford's stumbling stigma," Coon said.

The secretary perfectly aligned the paragraphs of the letter except for the final one that reads, "With warmest best wishes now and always."

That sentence starts on line, then tails downhill at the end, as if it has just veered off a ski slope.


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