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Gerald Ford ’38 (law): As His Classmates Remember Him

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This article by Roland Giduz ’48, then editor of the Review, appeared as the cover story in the January 1975 issue, accompanied by illustrations by then-Richmond News Leader cartoonist Jeff MacNelly ’69,  Although the article refers to Ford as an “academic alumnus” of UNC, he was not – the University recognizes as alumni individuals who have completed at least one semester of coursework. Ford took two law classes at Carolina in the summer session of 1938.

Gerald Ford ’38 (law):
As His Classmates Remember Him

That he was an outstanding lineman and captain of his Univ. of Michigan football team is well-known. And that he coached football and boxing while attaining his law degree at Yale has been firmly established.

But what is not popular knowledge is the fact that United States of America President Gerald R. Ford is also an academic alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And he is the first and only other Carolina alumnus to occupy the White House since the 1845-49 term of another barrister and predecessor in the House of Representatives, James Knox Polk of the UNC class of 1818.

President Ford himself readily recalls his little-known days as a student in Chapel Hill. This period was quite apart from his tenure in the cadre of the U.S. Naval Pre-Flight School on the University campus during World War II.

Some of President Ford’s fellow students in the UNC Law School have also remembered and kept up with the bright young man from Michigan who studied and fellowshipped with them at Chapel Hill in that first summer school term of 1938. The fact that Ford was an ex-student at Carolina has not been more generally known because alumni records were not set up for Summer School students until comparatively recent years.

Asked by the Alumni Office recently to verify President Ford’s enrollment at Chapel Hill, the Law School checked its files and found that he had indeed studied that one summer term in the School, then located in Manning Hall. While his grades are not a matter of public information, they admitted discreetly that the records showed that he was “a good student.” (Gerald Ford had been specially admitted to the Yale Law School earlier that year as a candidate “interested, mature, and serious of purpose.”)

The President’s circuitous route to Chapel Hill began in Ann Arbor shortly after his graduation in 1935. He went to Yale as an assistant football coach and boxing coach with hopes of attending law school in New Haven. Two years later he pursued the law studies ambition more directly, taking summer law courses at Michigan. Because he showed particular promise, he was admitted to the Yale Law School in February of 1938 – a term behind the entering class. Then, by attending summer school that year in Chapel Hill, and taking a heavier course load, he graduated from Yale in the usual three years in January of 1941. He entered the Navy later that year and that led him, coincidentally, to return to Chapel Hill for a longer stay during her war-time career.

Gerald Ford’s coming to Chapel Hill as a 24-year-old student in 1938 came as a result of one of his teachers, Harry Shulman, being a visiting professor here that summer. Ford took a course in federal jurisdiction under Prof. (and later Yale Dean) Shulman, and another course in contracts under UNC Law Prof. John P. Dalzell, who had joined the faculty that previous fall (and who became emeritus six year ago). The main incentive for Ford’s coming to UNC was Prof. Shulman, whom he called “a great personal favorite.”

When the information on his Chapel Hill alumni status came to light several months ago, the Alumni Review wrote through channels to President Ford to inquire about this. The President replied in his own hand-writing to nine different questions. – In fact, he answered on Nov. 5, 1974 – election day – thus taking time out on that significant occasion, while the entire country was at the polls, to answer an inquiry from this Alumni Office.

In that response he remembered that he had lived in Carr Dormitory on the main campus, it having been at that time a residence hall for law students. He noted that he did not participate in any sports or other extra-curriculars during that six-week student stint in Chapel Hill. No, he also answered, he did not ever happen to discuss with Richard Nixon the fact that they had both studied at law schools in North Carolina at about the same time – Nixon having been a regular law graduate of Duke in the class of 1937.

Through the years, though, Ford maintained many friendships in North Carolina as a result of his student associations, his stay in Chapel Hill during World War II, and through Republican party affiliations. “I spoke to a Univ. of N.C. student group in 1967 or thereabouts,” he recalled in his letter, apparently referring to a talk he made at chapel Hill during that time when he was Minority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Ford also recalled the names of two other summer of ’38 law students – the late Harry McMullan Jr. ’38 (AB, LLB ’40), and William F. Womble, a Winston-Salem attorney.

Womble, an undergraduate alumnus and 1939 law school graduate of Duke, happened to take summer courses at Chapel Hill in 1938 and met young Gerald Ford quite naturally in their federal jurisdiction class. (Womble said incidentally that he was already at the time casually acquainted with Richard Nixon, senior in the Duke Law School when he was a freshman.)

The Carolina Law School had a pretty small student body that summer, Womble recalled, and he felt they all came to know each other pretty well. Gerald Ford was “a good, friendly fellow” with whom he occasionally played some tennis. Many years later, when Rep. Ford was commencement speaker for his son’s graduating class at Wake Forest Univ., Womble met him briefly and recalled their Chapel Hill days.

McMullan’s son, Harry III ’68 (AB), verified his father’s and Ford’s friendship. In fact, he recalled from his mother that Ford had visited their family in “Little” Washington, N.C. that summer – and a family album photo verified this. Through the years his father kept up the friendship, sending Rep. Ford good wishes on his election to a leadership post in the U.S. House.

Twice last fall, too, when Harry III was a Republican nominee for Congress, he himself had occasion to meet President Ford when the party’s titular leader was giving a campaign boost to GOP candidates in Washington. On one of those occasions he and the other Republican Congressional candidates were lined up to have their photos snapped with the President in the Oval Office. As the Secret Servicemen were about to lead McMullan away, he mentioned to President Ford that he was the namesake of his former Carolina classmate. “It was like a light bulb turning on as he remembered,” young McMullan said.

As a lieutenant (j.g.) in World War II, Gerald Ford’s return to Chapel Hill has been well-remembered by other Carolina alumni. He was a platoon officer ion the initial 1942 cadre of the U.S. Naval Pre-Flight School on the UNC campus. His roommate in self-styled bachelor quarters at Chapel Hill was Ens. Bill McCachren ’39, also a platoon officer and now N.C. State Director of Selective Service in Raleigh (Alumni Review, January 1974). Their roommate in a rented one-room cabin owned by Pharmacy Prof. Henry Burlage in the Hidden Hills neighborhood was Ensign Earl Ruth ’38, later Ford’s colleague as a Congressman 1968-74. McCachren recalled Ford as “a damn good boy . like an old shoe . but he wasn’t one to carouse around and get stinking drunk.” Ford’s contribution to their domestic life then was usually to wash the dishes after he (McCachren) had done the cooking.

Another Carolina alumnus has kept up through the years with his old friend, Gerry Ford, from an entirely different and earlier era. He’s former UNC Football Coach George Barclay ’34, the Tar Heels’ first All-American. As a guard, Barclay lined up beside Gerry Ford in the 1934 East-West All-Star Shrine Bowl football classic. When Barclay was later a coach at Dartmouth he occasionally saw Ford at Yale. He wired him congratulations when he became Vice President: “Just keep centering the ball straight back!”


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