CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) President Bush remembered former President Gerald Ford today as a "gentleman who reflected the best in America's character" and helped heal a nation divided by Watergate.
"He assumed power in a period of great division and turmoil. For a nation that needed healing, and for an office that needed a calm and steady hand. Gerald Ford came along when we need him most," Bush said during a televised statement at his Texas ranch where he is staying for the holidays.
Bush noted that Ford "stepped into the presidency without ever having sought the office" after Richard Nixon's downfall in 1974 and helped restore Americans confidence in the White House by the "honorable conduct of his administration."
The current president, whose father served Ford as a diplomat and CIA director, borrowed from the 38th president's advisers in making up his own presidential team more than a quarter century later.
Vice President Dick Cheney served as Ford's chief of staff, while just departed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld served Ford in the same job.
Cheney called Ford a "dear friend and mentor" and hailed his former boss' role in bringing the nation out of its constitutional nightmare.
"In that troubled era, America needed strength, wisdom, and good judgment, and those qualities came to us in the person of Gerald R. Ford. When he left office, he had restored public trust in the presidency, and the nation once again looked to the future with confidence and faith," Cheney said in a statement.
Democrats and Republicans alike recalled Ford's kindness and willingness to work across party lines.
"President Ford was one of the kindest, most sincere elected officials whom I have known and with whom I have worked," said longtime Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V. "Although he and I were from different political parties, we often were able to find common ground and work together for our country."
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who served with Ford in the House, praised the former president for his commitment to his wife Betty and family.
"Jerry was warm gentle, friendly, pleasant courteous individual. He never used bad language, he loved his family, his kids and above all else he loved Betty," Dingell said.
White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten notified Bush about Ford's death shortly before 11 p.m. EST after getting the news from Ford's chief of staff.
Deputy White House press secretary Scott Stanzel said funeral arrangements are being handled by Ford's family. The president is scheduled to return to Washington on Jan. 1, and will attend the funeral, Stanzel said.