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Jerald F. terHorst, Ford's press secretary, dies

Patricia Sullivan

Jerald F. terHorst, 87, who resigned as White House press secretary over President Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon, died yesterday.

Just a year ago, I talked to him upon his wife's death and was reminded that this journalist, who was press secretary for only 30 days, was one of the few public figures in Washington ever to resign on principle. When he came home with the news that Ford planned to pardon Nixon, his wife asked what he was going to do.

"I told her I was going to resign. . . . She said, 'Sounds to me like you're on the right track,' " he told me.

His letter of resignation is considered a classic.""As your spokesman, I do not know how I could credibly defend that decision 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," he wrote. "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 offences have had far less effect on our national wellbeing."

He returned to the Detroit News where he had previously worked, then became the spokesman for the Ford Motor Co. Here's a photo before the White House Press Room dedication for James Brady, Reagan's former Press Secretary. From left: Pierre Salinger (Kennedy), Jerald terHorst (Ford), Larry Speakes (Reagan) ,and Mike McCurrry (Clinton).

salinger,terhorst,speaks,mccurry.JPG

By Patricia Sullivan  |  April 1, 2010; 1:07 PM ET
Categories:  Patricia Sullivan  
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Comments

This much integrity seems unimaginable today. But maybe it was surprising then too?

Posted by: Hopeful9 | April 1, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for reminding us...of "silent" heroes and an another time when party affiliation was not a reason that hampered doing the right thing. Some of America's (and Republicans') finest moments occurred during the Watergate period. Elliot Richardson's refusal and resignation was another instance.

Posted by: mendonsa | April 1, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

When I read the headline, I was disappointed to hear it wasn't Ari Fleisher, the mouthpiece of GW.

Posted by: kenk3 | April 1, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

I was in a network newsroom the early Sunday afternoon his resignation came down the wire, following closely the flash about the Nixon pardon. After years of Nixon obviously lying, none of us knew what to make of it. I remember thinking, was this another Saturday Night Massacre, who was next.

Ron Nessen from NBC came on-board as News Secretary (press was a pejorative for broadcasters, we had no press), did OK.

About all I knew about TerHorst was he'd been a respected print reporter for a paper in Michigan. In our newsroom, there was a huge relief Ron Zeigler was gone.

No reflection on Nessen, more a commentary on every administration since then, when I've read books about the Ford years, I've occasionally wondered, would it have been different if one of the key players in the administration was a man who wouldn't let the others b-s him, and wouldn't shade what he told reporters.

Posted by: burlough | April 1, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Due to his very short time on the job I have very little memory of Mr. terHorst. After reading his beautifully composed reasoning for resignation I wish I did. What a class act. In today's political climate he'd probably be vilified.

Posted by: curtb | April 1, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

I don't oppose principled resignations, although I never have submitted one... except from a position as a lunch waiter in a saloon. I do however recoil at the sight of grand-standing resignation letters. If you gotta go, then why harm those who can't accomodate your ideals?

That said, it was political and these days they don't do good resignation letters because they save it all for the book deal.

Posted by: blasmaic | April 1, 2010 7:37 PM | Report abuse

A man of principle with the bearing of a statesman. Not too many of his kind left in political and partisan Washington. RIP.

Posted by: meldupree | April 1, 2010 8:07 PM | Report abuse

Ford was right to pardon Nixon - to have a former President going through criminal courts for years would have paralyzed the nation. Even Ford's election opponent in 1976, Jimmy Carter, said that Ford "healed our land" with his pardon of Nixon and his conduct during his administration. Turns out Ford was right and terHorst was wrong.

Posted by: rah1962 | April 1, 2010 8:48 PM | Report abuse


Jerald is my kind of guy. History will remember him as a principled man married to an equally principled woman whom, when he needed her support the most, gave it to him without reservation or qualifications.

God bless America!!

Posted by: GoodAmerican | April 1, 2010 9:12 PM | Report abuse

Didn't Robert McNamara come from Ford as an "organizational genius"?

Posted by: seanmg | April 1, 2010 11:25 PM | Report abuse

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