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Jerald F. ter Horst

AKA Jerald Franklin terHorst

Born: 11-Jul-1922
Birthplace: Grand Rapids, MI
Died: 31-Mar-2010
Location of death: Asheville, NC
Cause of death: Heart Failure

Gender: Male
Religion: Presbyterian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Government
Party Affiliation: Independent

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Gerald Ford's short-term press secretary

Military service: U.S. Marine Corps (1943-46, 1951-52)

From 1946-51 Jerald F. ter Horst was a reporter for the Grand Rapids Press, and from 1953-81 he was a reporter, Washington bureau chief, and eventually a columnist for the Detroit News -- except for one month in 1974, when he was the White House Press Secretary. Congressman Gerald Ford had been appointed Vice President in December 1973, when Spiro T. Agnew resigned in disgrace. When Richard M. Nixon resigned the Presidency, Ford was sworn in on 9 August 1974. Ter Horst had covered Ford's political career for years, Ford knew him, trusted him, and hired him as his press secretary. It was Ford's first appointment.

For the next four weeks, ter Horst attended White House staff meetings and held press conferences daily. Then, on 8 September 1974, Ford declared that "Nixon and his loved ones have suffered enough and will continue to suffer, no matter what I do, no matter what we, as a great and good nation, can do together to make his goal of peace come true." With a stroke of his pen, Ford granted Nixon a "full, free, and absolute pardon" for any crimes he "committed or may have committed" while President. Unwilling to defend Ford's pardon, ter Horst resigned in protest. "I stayed up most of that night", he said, "just formulating a three-paragraph letter of resignation."

"Without a doubt this is the most difficult decision I ever have had to make. I cannot find words to adequately express my respect and admiration for you over the many years of our friendship and my belief that you could heal the wounds and serve our country in this most critical time in our nationís history. Words also cannot convey my appreciation for the opportunity to serve on your staff during the transitional days of your presidency and for the confidence and faith you placed in me in that regard. The Press Office has been restructured along professional lines. Its staff, from Deputy Press Secretary John W. Hushen down the line, is competent and dedicated and comprises loyal employees who have given unstintingly of their time and talents.

So it is with great regret, after long soul-searching, that I must inform you that I cannot in good conscience support your decision to pardon former President Nixon even before he has been charged with the commission of any crime. As your spokesman, I do not know how I could credibly defend that action in the absence of a like decision to grant absolute pardon to the young men who evaded Vietnam military service as a matter of conscience and the absence of pardons for former aides and associates of Mr. Nixon who have been charged with crimes — and imprisoned — stemming from the same Watergate situation. These are also men whose reputations and families have been grievously injured. Try as I can, it is impossible to conclude that the former President is more deserving of mercy than persons of lesser station in life whose offenses have had far less effect on our national wellbeing.

Thus it is with a heavy heart that I hereby tender my resignation as Press Secretary to the President, effective today. My prayers nonetheless remain with you, sir."

For his act of conscience, ter Horst was reviled by some, but others hailed him the last honest man in politics. Ron Nessen was appointed to succeed him as Ford's press secretary, and ter Horst went back to work at the Detroit News. He authored a biography titled Gerald Ford and the Future of the Presidency, and co-authored a non-fiction book about the presidential plane, Flying White House: The Story of Air Force One.

Ter Horst later served on the Advisory Council for the National Press Foundation, and passed away on 31 March 2010. In his honor, the Jerald F. ter Horst Award for Excellence in Political Reporting is now presented annually by George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management and School of Media and Public Affairs.

Father: Jan (carpenter)
Mother: Maude von Strien
Wife: Louise (d. 21-Mar-2009, four children)
Daughter: Karen terHorst
Daughter: Margaret terHorst
Son: Peter terHorst
Daughter: Martha terHorst

    University: Michigan State University
    University: BA, University of Michigan (1947)

    Ford Motors Spokesman
    The Detroit News (1974-81)
    White House Press Secretary 1974
    The Detroit News Reporter (1953-74)
    Grand Rapids Press Reporter (1946-51)
    Watergate Scandal
    Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
    Gridiron Club
    National Press Foundation Advisory Council
    Dutch Ancestry
    Risk Factors: Smoking


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