For Medford residents, the 2006 death of former President Gerald Ford may have rekindled memories of his May 1976 visit ahead of the Oregon primaries. His brief stay was the first time a sitting president had appeared in Jackson County since Theodore Roosevelt had addressed a crowd of Ashlanders from his railcar in May 1903.
At the Medford airport, about 300 people greeted President Ford. He was soon whisked away for a tour of the Medford Corporation’s lumber plant, where he chatted with men working the line.
With national and local press in his wake, Ford next crossed town for a rally in Library Park, present-day Alba Park. Speaking from a platform erected in back of Medford’s Carnegie Library, Ford addressed an estimated 3,000 people. His campaign theme was “Peace, growing prosperity and the restoration of trust in the White House.”
The crowd was excited, but — as political pundits note — Ford’s chance for election was in jeopardy because he had pardoned former President Richard Nixon in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.
Ford won the Oregon primary, but lost the national election to Democrat Jimmy Carter. In 1980, Ford returned to Medford to promote Republican Ronald Reagan’s bid for the presidency.
Sources: Strange, Jennifer, “The Day President Ford Campaigned in Medford,” Mail Tribune, Dec. 28, 2006; Davis, Jim, “Presidential Visits: 4 and Holding,” Mail Tribune, Feb. 15, 1999. As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at asitwas.org.