The scene seemed to capture the spirit of Gerald Ford's Presidency: amid the splendor of Tokyo's Akasaka Palace, the first American President to visit Japan sat with pipe and slippers, clad in wrinkled striped pajamas and a painfully mismatched robe. It was an image most modern Presidents would have taken pains to hide. Not Ford. Take plenty of pictures, he told White House photographer Dave Kennerly, "so I can show them to Betty."
If Ford's informal stamp on the Presidency was unique, so were the circumstances under which he was catapulted into the office by Richard Nixon's resignation. Ford's honeymoon was buoyant but brief. His pardon of Nixon shattered that fragile moment, and he has since taken abuse for not acting more decisively on the nation's considerable woes—a sagging economy and savage inflation paramount among them. In the midst of it all came personal anguish—his wife Betty's mastectomy. "This has been his most traumatic year," Mrs. Ford says, "since he was born."
Nonetheless, his family—not without effort—has maintained a remarkable equilibrium despite the fishbowl life. Married son Mike, 24, still attends divinity school in Massachusetts, while Jack, 22, is a student at Utah State University, and 18-year-old Steve works on a cattle ranch in Montana. The only Ford child living at the White House is the sometimes headstrong Susan, 17, who blossomed as official hostess when her mother was hospitalized. "She's matured a great deal," says Betty. "Jerry's very proud of her."
The President's day usually begins at 5:30 a.m., when he slides out of bed—quietly, so as not to wake Betty—and works out on a stationary bicycle. His doctor keeps him on a strict diet. At dinner, Ford gets only one plateful. "He has to wheedle anything else," Betty reports. Although he finds the job enormously time-consuming, he clearly enjoys being President, and of late even his severest critics acknowledge that he is coming to terms with the job—if not with brilliance, at least with integrity. "I think he's found it harder than he thought it would be," says Betty. "However," she jokes, "he's always believed that eating and sleeping were a waste of time."