A Gerald Ford story you won’t read in the obits

A little bit of Bay Area history on Oliver Sipple, who risked his life to prevent Sara Jane Moore from shooting President Ford in September 1975:

A despairing Sipple told reporters: “I want you to know that my mother told me today she can’t walk out of her front door because of the press stories.” He insisted: “My sexual orientation has nothing to do with saving the President’s life.” Apparently President Ford thought it did. There was no invitation to the White House for Sipple, not even a commendation. Milk made a fuss about that. Finally, weeks later, Sipple received a brief note of thanks.

Exposure was too much for Sipple. Already listless, he drifted into alcoholism and drug dependency, finally taking his own life.

[Update: in comments, Nicholas Whyte rebuts this story persuasively.

Also in comments, first-time CRN commenter Brian Mackey whines that it has taken me several hours to update this post to reflect Nick’s comments. I apologize for spending time offline with Zeke and Becky during Becky’s winter break, enjoying what are likely the last few days we all have together without obligation before Zeke isn’t around any more, rather than updating this post immediately so that people who are uninclined to read comment threads may have come away misinformed about a minor facet of a dead president’s administration.

I further apologize for the fact that I’m now going back to that family time-spending thing. Brian, if you could do me a favor and tell yourself to bite me, I’d greatly appreciate it, you know, from a time management perspective. Thanks in advance.]

17 thoughts on “A Gerald Ford story you won’t read in the obits

  1. Maud

    Outing someone you don’t know, whose circumstances and feelings you know nothing of, who is not a public figure by choice, is inexcusable. But shunning someone who saved your life, because he’s gay? That’s beyond belief. I wonder how many times, if ever, in the last 31 years, Gerald Ford thought about the man who gave him those 31 years.

  2. Hank Fox

    Poor guy.

    If it happened today, BushCo would invite the guy to Washington and USE him to show what an openminded and “one big tent” affair the Republican Party is. And then throw him blithely away.

    Although … if it happened TODAY, I doubt if many bystanding San Franciscans would wrestle the gunwoman to the ground.

  3. julia

    We’re going to be hearing a lot in the next couple of daysabout what a lovable goofy galoot Ford was, and boy, you know, he really wasn’t. Think Bob Dole without the fine motor control.

    That said, Harvey Milk could not have been wronger.

  4. Rob G

    It’s hard to know whether Sipple’s treatment originated with Ford -Gerry never seemed too bright. But Milk had no excuse. Dickheads are distributed evenly across the rainbow.

  5. Nicholas Whyte

    It’s not at all hard to know if Sipple’s treatment originated with Ford. It simply didn’t. Ford wrote to Sipple at almost the first chance he got, three days after the event (not “weeks later”, as alleged in the American Century narrative). Sipple never asked to be invited to the White House, or to get some special commendation; Ford no doubt had bad memories of the bizarre way Nixon had invited the likes of Elvis to the White House and was firmly resolved to have a more low-key presidency.

    Ford’s own position as he publicly stated it on gay rights was unambiguous. On Sipple, he said in 2001, “As far as I was concerned, I had done the right thing and the matter was ended. I didn’t learn until sometime later — I can’t remember when — he was gay. I don’t know where anyone got the crazy idea I was prejudiced and wanted to exclude gays.”

    It was (no doubt well-intentioned campaigners) in San Francisco who decided on Sipple’s behalf what reward he should have received from President Ford; and it was Harvey Milk who outed Sipple, and thus made his life intolerable.

  6. Rob G

    I regret my “never seemed too bright” comment. Those were the days when not even Republicans were exempt from cheap shots, and that one stuck, much more, I suspect, than it should have. As near as one can judge these things, Ford seemed a decent, honourable man.

  7. Rich Puchalsky

    There have been a number of comments about how wrong Harvey Milk was to out Sipple.  Isn’t this a bit of a special case?  “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”  Harvey Milk was killed himself only three years later.  His outing of Sipple was wrong by most individualist ethical codes, including mine, but he was rightly or wrongly doing it for a well-considered political purpose, and he himself was taking the same risks.  That’s more than any radical right-wing politician has ever done.

  8. Rob G

    His outing of Sipple was wrong by most individualist ethical codes, including mine, but he was rightly or wrongly doing it for a well-considered political purpose, and he himself was taking the same risks.

    Imposing the risks you take on somebody else is an outrage for which there is no excuse. Ever.

    That’s more than any radical right-wing politician has ever done.

    With all due respect Rich, so what? Being better than Tom Delay is not something to aspire to.

  9. Brian Macker

    Chris Clarke,

    When are you going to update this erroneous and frankly slanderous post?  Had I not read the comments I would have left this site misinformed. Nicholas Whyte has given your ample reason to update it with correct information.

  10. Nicholas Whyte

    Chris,

    Thank you for the generous updating of the post, and I hope you continue to have a good Christmas.

  11. Hank Fox

    When are you going to update this erroneous and frankly slanderous post?

    Brian, it’s “slander” when you say it. When you write it, it’s “libel.” Also, technically, legally, I don’t think you can either slander or libel a dead person.

    Brian, if you could do me a favor and tell yourself to bite me, I’d greatly appreciate it, you know, from a time management perspective. Thanks in advance.

    Chris, I laughed out loud for more than a minute. Righteous comeback.

  12. decrepitoldfool

    Being a lost Republican myself (who now unhappily votes Democrat) I was saddened by Ford’s passing.  I hope his example makes a lot of reps on both sides of the aisle stop and think; “Wait a minute, we’ve got a country to run.  We should focus on issues.”

    And I was very glad to learn Ford supported gay rights during his lifefime.

    That said, it bothered me that Ford asked his views on Iraq only be published posthumously.  If it was important, why not say it right away?  Why did he let the random time of his death decide when it would be said?

    But I guess he’s in a lot of good company.  The whole country practically stood by and let BushCo ram the war down our throats.