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He was a nice man of American politics, an accidental president with a good heart, an average mind and, hailing from a border state, a sound appreciation of Canada.

Because Gerald Ford never wanted the White House, because the position was handed to him, he brought a different personality to the position. He had the look of a pharmacist. You never got the sense he was as conniving as the others.

As such, the 38th president, who passed away late Tuesday, stood in contrast to Richard Nixon and was a good choice to end what he called the nation's "long national nightmare" of Vietnam and Watergate. His pardoning of the Watergate president, which saw him tumble in public esteem, was not what the American people had in mind for the latter. But with a protracted trial of Mr. Nixon, the darkness might well have lingered.

With Canada there was no nightmare.

Pierre Trudeau enjoyed a relaxed and harmonious relationship with the former congressman from Michigan. It was under President Ford, along with secretary of state Henry Kissinger, that Canada was admitted to the G7. The inclusion in the club of leading economic powers served to enhance the country's international standing.

"Canada is no longer a minor partner," Mr. Kissinger announced back then, "but a country which rightfully takes its place in the economic and political councils of the world."

Some regarded Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Ford as an odd fit because while the prime minister had credentials as a globe-trotting intellectual, the president enjoyed no such standing. Cartoonists pictured Mr. Ford strapping on a football helmet while getting set to turn a few laps in the White House pool.

He was given to the occasional malapropism, once declaring that, "If Abraham Lincoln were alive today, he'd roll over in his grave."

And, of course, it was Gerald Ford who made the assertion in the 1976 presidential debates with Jimmy Carter that Eastern Europe was not dominated by communism. This was news to anyone with even a fleeting acquaintance with the previous three decades of history.

But Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Ford got along wonderfully. The PM was insistent through these times that Canada enjoy more independence and his external affairs minister, Allan MacEachen, rejected the idea of special ties to the U.S. "The special relationship no longer serves either of our best interests," he said. "What is being developed is a more mature relationship."

Talk of any new independence irked American ambassador William Porter, who had trouble getting his calls returned from the Prime Minister's Office and who, on leaving his post, called in Canadian reporters to blast the deteriorating state of relations.

But such spats did not affect the rapport between the president and PM, who became ski buddies, going on trips to Colorado in the years that followed Mr. Ford's brief tenure in office.

Though a former college football player and a good athlete, Mr. Ford somehow got saddled with a clumsy image. In golf, his drives tended to veer considerably off target, prompting comedian Bob Hope to crack: "We have 58 golf courses out here in the San Fernando Valley. With President Ford you have to wait till after his first tee shot to know which one he is playing."

Despite his stumbles, Mr. Ford remained a well-liked figure. Not a mean bone in his body, it was said of him. His narrow defeat at the hands of Jimmy Carter in 1976 may have been something of a blessing. The U.S. economy was heading toward its most disabled state in decades at the time and it would have been difficult for any president, as Mr. Carter found out, to survive the double-digit unemployment, inflation and interest rates of the period.

In a strange development, Mr. Ford almost returned to politics in 1980 as vice-president to Ronald Reagan. After the Gipper had won the nomination, his advisers thought they might erase any suspicion he was unfit or too dangerous for the office by having the veteran Ford at his side. Reagan-Ford was billed the dream ticket and at the Detroit convention in 1980, it looked like such a sure thing that the news media were already beginning to write their stories. But negotiations between the two camps broke down at the last moment and Mr. Reagan instead chose George Bush to run with him.

It was one of history's pivotal moments, clearing the way for two Bush presidencies.

Mr. Ford went back to the sidelines. Unlike Jimmy Carter, who turned to book-writing to restore his image, or Bill Clinton, who has continued campaigning throughout his post-presidency, he remained quiet.

He didn't have to try to set the record straight. He had served only a short time as president but in that period -- it was not hard to look good after Richard Nixon -- he had helped restore respect for his party and his country.

lmartin@globeandmail.com