White House History Quarterly 58 - Photographing - Bales

Page 1

Please note that the following is a digitized version of a selected article from White House History Quarterly, Issue 58, originally released in print form in 2020. Single print copies of the full issue can be purchased online at Shop.WhiteHouseHistory.org No part of this book may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. All photographs contained in this journal unless otherwise noted are copyrighted by the White House Historical Association and may not be reproduced without permission. Requests for reprint permissions should be directed to rights@whha.org. Contact books@whha.org for more information. Š 2020 White House Historical Association. All rights reserved under international copyright conventions.



Photographing the WHITE HOUSE: A First Daughter’s Perspective

GERALD R. FORD PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM

SUSAN FORD BALES

Ignore the frustrations and embrace all of this by photographing (whenever and wherever) your experiences as the president’s daughter. —David Hume Kennerly to Susan Ford

83


a challenging experience—living in the White House as teenagers. Dad and Mom, like so many other presidents and first ladies, tried mightily to ensure that I could continue with my teenage activities without interference or scrutiny from outside the White House “bubble.”2 Admittedly, the usual teenage daughter challenges I caused Dad from time to time paled in comparison to the burdens he, like all presidents, shouldered every second of the day, particularly with the tumult he had to confront from the continuing ravages of the Vietnam War and Watergate. Nevertheless, he and Mom wanted to avoid having their new responsibilities isolate me from my friends and classmates. I was confident that, even with our new address, I’d be unaffected by the hubbub of the presidency and the White House. Looking back nearly five decades later, my naiveté in those early days was definitely front and

84

white house history quarterly

Chief Justice Warren Burger administers the Oath of Office to Dad in the East Room of the White House as Mom looks on, August 9, 1974 (above left). After Dad’s swearingin ceremony, our family poses in the Oval Office (above right). Right to left: Michael Ford and his wife Gayle, Susan Ford, Gerald Ford, Betty Ford, Steve Ford, and Jack Ford.

LEF T: GET TY IMAGES / RIGHT: GERALD R. FORD PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY

on august 9, 1974, dad got a new job, and, with less than one day’s notice, my family and I got a new address—1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. That afternoon, we gathered in the East Room to witness Vice President Gerald R. Ford take the presidential Oath of Office, thus becoming America’s only “unelected president.” Dad assumed the presidency under what he aptly termed “extraordinary circumstances.” And to me, his daughter, who until then was a typical suburban high school teenager, the prospect of our new home was more than “extraordinary”; it was incomprehensible. Suddenly, there I was, the new president’s daughter, bursting with excitement and wonderment and moving into the White House. Without question, living in the White House is an honor beyond description. The history, grandeur, constant hustle and bustle, and, yes, even its mysteries, are singularly unique.1 There are several of us, dating back to the nineteenth century, who’ve shared


center. Once Dad concluded to the chief justice in the East Room “so help me God,” nothing was ever “normal” again. There were cascades of events that constantly reminded me of the realities of being a first family member and why things could never be the same as my previous quiet (and private) life in Alexandria. Three such events, still as vivid today as when they happened, are striking examples of how those realities of the presidency pierced my personal world. One autumn day, Dad traveled to Sacramento, California, to give a speech at the State Capitol. As he walked through a downtown park enroute to the Capitol, a woman suddenly pointed a .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol at him and attempted to kill him.3

Just seventeen days later, Dad returned to California. As he exited a hotel in San Francisco, another attacker tried to assassinate him. The bullet she fired barely missed his head. With the horrors of assassinations in Dallas, Memphis, and Los Angeles still fresh in the national psyche, Americans were shocked that such horror almost happened again, much less twice in just over two weeks. America was stunned; I was traumatized. My emotions were raw, and they consumed me. I channeled them directly at the presidency and the White House. In my mind, it was “their fault” that people were trying to kill my Dad, as if those feelings were somehow going to cause the threats to Dad to go away.

GETTY IMAGES

Secret Service agents surround Dad and rush him to safety in the moments following a failed assassination attempt by Lynette (“Squeaky”) Fromme, September 5, 1975. Dad had been enroute to give a speech at the California State Capitol in Sacramento. A second assassination attempt was made just seventeen days later when Sara Jane Moore fired a shot at Dad outside the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco.

white house history quarterly

85


86

D AV I D H U M E K E N N E R LY/ G E T T Y I M A G E S

A similarly jarring development occurred shortly after we moved into the White House. Mom took me aside alone upstairs and quietly said four words; I remember them as clearly as if she had spoken them yesterday. Mom whispered, “I have breast cancer.” In those days, the outcome of such a diagnosis was grim: Mom likely was going to die. The unavoidable fear, the kind that reaches into the pit of your stomach, was wrenching. And just because I was sitting in the White House and Mom was first lady, it wasn’t one bit easier. I recall exactly Mom’s conversation with Dad and me about whether to share her diagnosis and treatment with the public. Should she announce she had cancer? And should anyone, much less the First Lady for goodness’ sake, dare say the word—breast—publicly? How much should she (and we) talk about something so personal to any woman, cancer of her breast? My first reaction was swift—no way! She (and we) ought to be able to deal with her life-threatening diagnosis privately, and no law or White House tradition should require us to make anything about it public. I wanted her to do what so many other women and families had done before: simply explain (as, if, and when asked) that she was having “female problems” and would soon undergo “exploratory surgery” to take care of them. The thought of witnessing such a private diagnosis about my mother being discussed in public day after day was simply not something I wanted to deal with. But Mom disagreed. Fortunately, I quickly recognized and embraced the wisdom of her courage. She bluntly said, “The time for women hiding this disease in shame and behind closed doors has to stop, and who better to make that happen than the First Lady of the United States?” So Mom announced to the public exactly—and I mean exactly—what was happening to her. She decided to take a courageous, yet very white house history quarterly


NATIONAL ARCHIV ES

I said good-bye to Mom at the Bethesda Naval Hospital on the eve of her breast cancer surgery, September 27, 1974 (opposite). Mom broke with the customary silence about breast cancer and openly discussed her treatment with the public, advocating for early detection. The following year (above), she took questions from reporters when she arrived to tour the Guttman Institute for Early Detection of Breast Cancer in New York City.

controversial step and tell the world the truth about her disease. And so she did. Mom repeated publicly those same four words she’d whispered privately to me in the White House Residence. America’s first lady announced: “I have breast cancer.” And in an instant, the arc of women’s health was forever changed.4 My teenage privacy was once again rattled one Sunday evening when I, along with millions of Americans, tuned in to hear Mom interviewed on 60 Minutes. During the interview, Morley Safer asked, “What if Susan came to you and said, ‘Mother, I’m having an affair’?” I was shocked at the question— about me! Mom’s candid response was immediate, “Well, I wouldn’t be surprised. She’s a perfectly normal human being, like all young girls. . . . I’d certainly counsel or advise her on the subject.” My thoughts were swift (and admittedly sarcastic): Gee, thanks Mom (and Dad); I really appreciate having a public discussion of my personal morals

white house history quarterly

and future dating choices! Where in the first family manual does it say I’m required to go through something like this!?! Each of those events—the attempts to assassinate Dad, Mom confronting publicly a deadly and very personal disease, and a nationally broadcast discussion of a hypothetical affair of mine— had a common and, for me, unwelcome element: but for Dad being president, none of those things would have happened. Part of me (a selfish part) wanted to isolate myself from the presidency and the White House. Just leave me alone, I thought, and let me live my own life; Dad’s the president, not me. Thankfully however, another part of me was sparked by a family friend. That spark profoundly enhanced my White House experience.

87


the ready, and fortunately it remained so for the remainder of our time in the White House. Since Dad and our family left the White House on January 20, 1977, seven families, including several with teenagers, have lived in that special home. My fondest hope is that they and all future first families will share in similar joys of living in the White House, like those that the thirty-eighth president of the United States and his family experienced, an honor for which I will always be grateful to the American people—always.

88

white house history quarterly

Carrying cameras and photography equipment, I descend the steps of Air Force One upon arriving in Philadelphia with Dad and my photography mentor, White House photographer David Hume Kennerly, May 18, 1975.

GERALD R. FORD PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM

PHOTOGRAPHY The friend was David Hume Kennerly, a Pulitzer Prize–winning photographer whom Dad selected on his first day as president to be his personal White House photographer. David quickly became more than a White House staff member; he was a family friend and a mentor to me. David began to sense my growing frustrations at the effect that events and restrictions were having on me simply because Dad was president. One day, David sat down with me. He was his usual direct (and funny) self. He understood and in many instances shared my frustrations; however, his recommended solution was as unexpected as it was brilliant. “Ignore the frustrations,” he admonished me, “and embrace all of this by photographing (whenever and wherever) your experiences as the president’s daughter.” And to make certain I got his message, David gave me a professional camera and lots of rolls of film. The result was magical; an unknown inner passion for photography was awakened within me. And, correspondingly, my frustrations at the presidency began to fade. Month after month, David taught me how to capture photographs of special moments and scenes. Together we photographed Oval Office meetings, White House ceremonies, and special activities with Dad in many locations, from the Rose Garden to the Great Wall in China. The joy my new camera brought was exhilarating. So, not surprisingly, when my high school classmates and I selected our senior projects, I chose one that was photography based. Taking to heart David’s advice that I embrace being a White House teenager, I decided to shadow Dad for a month and create a photographic record of that remarkable experience. Dad was an enthusiastic supporter, as were his aides and cabinet secretaries and even members of the White House press corps. That entire month my camera was always at


GERALD R. FORD PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM

David Hume Kennerly and White House Photo Editor Sandra Eisert share their advice as I prepare a portfolio of my photographs of Dad’s trip to the Far East.

white house history quarterly

89


BOTH PHOTOS THIS SPREAD BY SUSAN FORD / GERALD R. FORD PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM

We surprised Dad with a gift of a golden retriever puppy, Liberty. She quickly became a familiar visitor throughout the White House. Here she enjoys falling snow in the Rose Garden with two of her favorite places, the Oval Office and Cabinet Room, in the background.

90

white house history quarterly


Liberty joins Dad and Mom during a conversation at Camp David.

white house history quarterly

91


BOTH PHOTOS THIS SPREAD BY SUSAN FORD / GERALD R. FORD PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM

Dad meets with Cabinet members and senior advisers on the Sequoia, the presidential yacht.

92

white house history quarterly


Even for a president, the view of Washington, D.C., from Marine One is like no other.

white house history quarterly

93


BOTH PHOTOS THIS SPREAD BY SUSAN FORD / GERALD R. FORD PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM

I photographed Mom enjoying a visit with her friend Delores Hope in the West Sitting Hall on the Second Floor of the White House.

94

white house history quarterly


Mom confers with dancers during a rehearsal for a State Dinner performance in the East Room. As a former professional dancer herself, Mom delighted in bringing dance performances to the White House.

white house history quarterly

95


BOTH PHOTOS THIS SPREAD BY SUSAN FORD / GERALD R. FORD PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM

Dad relaxes with me for a quick photograph in the Oval Office.

96

white house history quarterly


Dad was very generous (and patient) with my senior project, and he allowed me to have extensive access to photograph him each day in a variety of settings. Here he meets with National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

white house history quarterly

97


1.

The many stories of the kindnesses and grace of the White House Residence staff are all true. There was not a single day—not one—during Dad’s 895-day presidency when those remarkable men and women failed to make our temporary “home” happier and more enjoyable. The members of the Residence staff truly are the spirit of the White House.

2.

The 24-hour presence of a Secret Service detail was not a change for me when Dad became president. Shortly after he was sworn in as vice president, a list of targets was discovered in the headquarters of a domestic terrorist group. Included on the list were several names, including one young woman who’d already been kidnapped by the terrorists—and me. I was immediately assigned a protective detail, which continued until the end of Dad’s presidency.

3.

Thankfully, due to the heroic actions of Secret Service Agent Larry Buendorf and Dad’s Secret Service detail, she was wrestled to the ground, and Dad was unharmed.

4.

As presidential historian Richard Norton Smith concluded, “Where women’s health issues are concerned, American history is divided into two unequal periods: Before Betty and After Betty.” Eulogy, Betty Ford Memorial Service, Grand Rapids, Michigan, July 14, 2001, online at geraldfordfoundation.org.

Following Mom’s successful surgery for breast cancer, I filled in for her and served as temporary hostess for many official events at the White House. Here, White House Photographer David Kennerly and I dance at a White House reception for the Diplomatic Corps, October 5, 1974. David remained a good friend to Dad, Mom, and our family in the decades after we left the White House.

98

white house history quarterly

GERALD R. FORD PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM

notes


Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.