I am setting aside my intended post to give a personal tribute to a man who in the early 1990's gave to me a very unique moment of kindness -- President Gerald R. Ford. Quite a bit will be said in the next few days about this former President who will go down in history as the only United States President never to be elected by the people to the office. I would like to offer a personal reflection regarding President Ford's kindness.
The year was 1990. America was involved in the First Gulf War. Police Officer Kevin Johnson and I were in an unmarked vehicle in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma when we decided to pull in front of the 15th Street Grill to eat lunch. I was surprised that there were several parking places available in front of this very popular restaurant during the noon hour, but was delighted to be able to park right in front of the restaurant.
When we got out of the car a man in a dark suit and sunglasses came up to us and said, "Gentlemen, I am going to have to ask you to move your car."
Officer Johnson, who at the time was working in the robbery division of the Tulsa Police Department, replied, "Sir, we are about to eat at the 15th Street Grill and we are parked in their reserved customer parking."
The stranger responded, "Sirs, I still must ask you to move your car."
Officer Johnson pulled out his badge and held it up for the man to see. "My name is Kevin Johnson, I am an officer for the Tulsa Police Department. This is Chaplain Wade Burleson. We are 10-7 for one hour and looking forward to lunch. This is a TPD vehicle, legally parked, and we will not move the car."
The man then pulled out his badge, held it up and said in a very calm voice, "My name is Steve Smith. I work for the Secret Service of the United States government. My badge is bigger than your badge, you need to move your car."
We moved our car.
Former President Gerald Ford was in Tulsa visiting his daughter and they both decided to have lunch at the same restaurant, at the same time, Kevin and I decided to have lunch.
After moving our car we went in and sat down at a table in a corner of the room. The restaurant was filled with agents due to the heightened security as a result of the Gulf War, and when Gerald Ford came into the restaurant with his daughter the agents formed a protective cocoon around the Fords.
I told Kevin that I would like to visit with the former President and he laughed and said I would not even get close to be able to talk to him. I waited till we were through with lunch and tried go visit with him.
Kevin was right! The agents stopped me before I could even get within twenty feet. However, the President must have seen the commotion and he told the agents to let me through. I introduced myself to the President Ford and his daughter and he graciously asked me to sit down. For the next few minutes we conversed about Tulsa, his family, the War and my ministry in Tulsa and his faith in God.
I was really shocked at the kindness the former President was showing me. I asked him if I could have an autograph and he said he could do much better than that. He asked for my business card, which I gave him, and he said he would send me something in the mail in a few days.
Two weeks later I received an official autographed Presidential photograph of President Gerald R. Ford with a very nice letter attached.
The day I received the package from the former President I determined then and there never to put off anyone who ever wanted to speak to me, talk to me, or requested something of me, no matter who it was. If this man who had been at one time in his life the most powerful man in the world would take the time to be kind to a complete stranger who desired just a moment of his time, then surely this preacher could show the same kindness to complete strangers as well.
The country will observe the burial of former President Gerald R. Ford in three days. Many pundits will offer views of his Presidency, both good and bad. This preacher simply thanks the Lord for my providential encounter with President Ford because through it, God taught me about the powerful impact a person can have on the 'little guys' of this world.
I close this small tribute with what I believe to be two of the best quotes from President Gerald R. Ford:
It's good to be in the great state of Oklahoma, the home of Will Rogers who never met a man he didn't like, and the Oklahoma Sooners who never met a team they couldn't beat .
Gerald Ford, Presidential Campaign Speech in Oklahoma City, Spring 1976
I ask again you prayers . . . 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 for America.
God helping me, I will not let you down.
Gerald R. Ford's Closing Remarks on Taking the Oath of Office as President, August 9, 1974
In His Grace,