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Quote of the Day - If the government is big enough to give you everything you want, it is big enough to take away everything you have. - Gerald Ford
It Was An Honor, Mr. President
There will be many tributes to Gerald Ford, and ones by people more important than me, to be sure. Let me add a personal note, however, to honor the people's President. In one part of his very full life, President Ford served as the Honorary Fundraising Chairman of the Bighorn Institute in Palm Desert, California, near where he lived. It was a cause close to his heart: ensuring the survival of our country's natural resources, and a particularly noble one at that - the Desert Peninsular Bighorn Sheep. It started with a lone biologist with a goal to restore the species to health.
A massive die-off of the herd had occurred, reducing the population of Bighorn to levels considered barely survivable for the species as a whole. Jim DeForge, a biologist working on his masters degree, had come to the desert some twenty-five years ago to study the Bighorn for his thesis, only to discover the die-off. He suddenly became motivated to find the reason for the die-off, and in the process began what is now a world-renowned research institute dedicated to Bighorn Sheep, thanks in large part to President Ford. During DeForge's research, he found a nearly dead lamb and was trying vainly to save it when a friend of the President's happened upon DeForge, and put him in touch with a doctor who immediately helped administer emergency aid, and nursed the lamb back to health. The President heard of the event not only from his friend, but also his doctor, who had helped save the lamb.
With the efforts of the three of them, the Bighorn Institute was formed, and President Ford helped raise funds for the organization, and added legitimacy to the lone biologist's effort. That organization now boasts one of the most effective charitable Board of Directors in the posh desert area around Rancho Mirage. I can attest to that statement, having had the experience of interacting with the President on that Board.
Just a few years after its inception, the Institute got sued in a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) suit for speaking its mind against a development immediately to the North (link has sound) of its seven-acre ram pen and 30-acre ewe, yearling and lamb pen. The development threatened to place homes and noise less than 50 yards away from the pens, adding stressors to the environment where Bighorn isolated themselves from the world to give birth to lambs. DeForge had discovered that too many Bighorn deaths occurred during the time period immediately after birth, when the lambs were no longer connected by umbilical cords to their mother's immune system, to the time mother's milk helped the lambs develop their own immune system.
Another friend of the President, who also sat on the Board, brought in his law firm to defend the Institute. I was lucky enough to be one of the lawyers assigned to the case. During the course of my representation of the Institute, the Board required me to provide quarterly reports to them regarding the status of the litigation. As a former member of the military, clearance to attend the Board meetings wasn't much of an issue, but the Secret Service nonetheless checked me out before I attended my first meeting.
At that first presentation, I had been in practice less than five years, but President Ford, a lawyer himself, treated me like an equal, and engaged me in discussions like any fellow lawyer would have. He was articulate, insightful, and very analytical. Frequently, what I had been asked to provide (a five-minute presentation) turned into a half-hour or forty-five minute discussion, with President Ford helping develop strategies for the lawsuit. He helped turn the case from one where the Institute initially found itself on the defense to one where the Institute not only recovered its fees and costs, but also furthered its already-established endowment fund. I had been lucky enough to glimpse for a brief moment what I imagine the experience of the give-and-take between a president and his attorney general.
After the litigation finished, the Board asked me to join as a member, and I had the privilege of working with a giving and caring man who was not only a brilliant strategist and a fierce leader, but also a wonderfully dedicated philanthropist. President Ford will be missed by all who knew him, even if only for a brief moment in the scheme of a 93-year testament to dedication and devotion to duty. His legacy will long be remembered by those who knew him, and appreciated by Bighorn that can't say thank-you.