Beaver Creek resident and former President Gerald Ford dies at 93

Associated Press Writer
Beaver Creek, Colorado, CO
AP file photoPresident and Mrs. Ford pause in their packing at the White House, on January 19, 1977, for a moment together. Former first lady Betty Ford said Dec. 26 that President Gerald Ford has died.

BEAVER CREEK ” When President Ford visited the Vail Valley for Christmas in 1967, he fell in love with the mountains and the skiing and built a home that attracted a long line of distinguished dignitaries.

It was his Western White House when he was president, and it became his Shangri La in his golden years, a place where he spent his summers and established a home after he left the White House.

“We had always been a skiing family. We looked around, to Sun Valley and Aspen and Park City and finally came here in Christmas of 1968, because we thought it was the best skiing,” he said in 1999.

Ford, who had been in failing health the past few years died Tuesday at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif., his wife, Betty, said. He was 93.

Penny Circle, his longtime chief of staff who traveled with the former president each summer, said Ford loved Colorado and so did his family.

Every year, beginning in 1982, Ford held forums with the American Enterprise Institute featuring world leaders, including former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, which Ford saw as an opportunity to get current and former business leaders and politicians together to discuss business and politics. The discussions were informal and off-the-record, designed to provoke.

Leaders in his adopted home dubbed him “The First Citizen of the Vail Valley.”

“Betty and I don’t exploit it, of course, but we feel good that’s the way people think about us,” Ford once said.

The other seven months a year, he lived in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

Vail Mayor Rod Slifer, a real estate developer, said he met Ford when he was a congressman from Michigan who came to Colorado to ski and bought a condominium in Vail. When Ford became president after the resignation of President Nixon in 1974, he brought movers and shakers like Dick Cheney, who was his chief of staff, and Donald Rumsfeld.

Ford becoming president placed the young ski town, which was incorporated just eight years earlier, on the front-pages of newspapers.

“Ford put Vail on the map,” Slifer said.

Slifer said Ford loved to talk politics ” international, domestic, local, it didn’t matter.

“He had strong opinions. He’d challenge you strongly if he had his mind made up,” Slifer said. When he first met Beth Slifer, Slifer’s wife and a Democrat, Ford was hesitant to speak to her but later warmed up.

In 1981 Ford was one of the founding board members of the Vail Valley Foundation, a group dedicated to educational, cultural and athletic events in the area, and was still on the board, said John Dakin of the foundation. Among the events the group helped bring to the area were the 1989 and 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships, and the World Mountain Bike Championships, which were happening Sept. 11, 2001.

“He calls up and said, ‘No matter what you do, don’t you cancel these championships. If you do, then they (the terrorists) win”‘ recalled Dakin.

After Ford left the White House, he moved to Beaver Creek, a nearby, gated community, where he continued to hobnob with world leaders, while always remaining accessible to those in the community.

“He and Mrs. Ford were not casual celebrity sightings,” Dakin said. “They wanted to know what was going on here and wanted to be involved … Whether it was lending his name or his years of experience and expertise, he wanted to help make this place better.”

Ford helped build the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail, a center for quality arts, and the Vilar Center for the Performing Arts in Beaver Creek.

He played host for a celebrity golf tournament and for years insisted on turning on the Christmas tree lights in Vail each year. Failing health prevented Ford from participating in the tradition the last two years, Slifer said.

His summer home, which his spokeswoman this summer said he was considering selling, became a magnet for family members, including his four children and spouses and grandchildren.

Ford said after he lost the election in 1976, “instead of sitting around moaning and groaning, I became very active.”

He visited campuses, lecturing and teaching. He raised money for charity, including the Betty Ford Center founded by his wife, he served on corporate boards and “campaigned for good political candidates as I see them,” he said.

Slifer said it was Ford who encouraged him to run for mayor of Vail, and he took the advice.

“He supported my campaign. He didn’t give me any money, though,” the mayor said.

Vail Valley Foundation:

American Enterprise Institute:

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