I was a wide-eyed, fresh-out-of-college graduate in the mid-1970s and, having always imagined that my Great American Novel or deeply appreciated volume of poetry would catapult me to the crest of the bestseller list, I never dreamed that Gerald Ford would be the indirect cause of my only 15 minutes of fame. Journalism and literature were my name; politics had never been my game.
When no nationally acclaimed newspaper offered me my own column, I became the babe-in-the-woods advertising account executive at my local paper, the Los Angeles Times.
In 1977, one year after Gerald Ford lost the presidential election to Jimmy Carter, I was sent to the Times's San Diego office to sell space to surf shacks and gift shops in towns like Encinitas and Solana Beach. At least I didn't need expensive career clothes.
The afternoon I stumbled into the Del Mar News Press to retrieve camera-ready artwork for an advertiser, I was greeted by a sort of then-Robert Redford/now-Brad Pitt look-alike publisher who bounded from his small office and handed me the paperwork.
"I'm Jack Ford," he said cheerily and warmly shook my hand. I thought nothing of it, short of his shocking good looks and beach-blond locks until, upon my return to the office, a co-worker clued me in to the fact that I had just brushed palms with the ex-president's son.
Dangerously serendipitous thoughts began to dance in my head. Could I join ranks with him and copublish? Meet his father for lunch in Washington before writing his biography? Marry him?
A few days later, my desk phone rang. It was Jack Ford, who wondered: Would it be possible for him to get a tour of the Times? Bingo. Surely this would be my ticket to an exclusive interview with a former president's son. I was sure this would garner kudos from editors across the nation.
Back to reality, I immediately said that he could tour the Times, and, of course, I would escort him. I made the necessary arrangements and, much to my surprise, was instructed that he and I would fly from San Diego to Burbank, where a car would be awaiting our arrival.
I enthusiastically arrived at the airport dressed as a female top executive – in a pencil skirt that would not allow either leg to move more than one inch at a time – and two hours early, when only an hour was required back then, before more stringent airport security measures became necessary.
As time passed and I remained solo, I realized there was a distinct possibility that we were going to miss the flight. But then, sure enough, Jack and his partner (sorry, I can't recall your name, even though you, too, were cute) came running down the corridor to the gate. It was a dramatic sight for a starry-eyed, small-town girl from Pasadena.
I carried a notepad to take notes for the Pulitzer Prize-winning piece I would write. As we boarded the plane and I reached into my purse to make sure I'd remembered a pen, I stumbled on the rubberized floor. Son of Ford caught my arm. "I'm such a klutz!" I mumbled.
"We all trip now and then," he reassured me. "Don't ever let anyone give you a hard time about it."
Should this be the moment when I would tell him that my one and only political experience had been to file newspaper clippings in the campaign office during his father's run for the presidency? Or that I'd stayed up all night in the ballroom of some hotel in the Century Citysection of Los Angelesonly to suffer the disappointment of Ford's loss?
Shy for words when placed alongside a handsome celebrity, I settled for, "Oh, that's right! Your father is always teased about tripping and falling!"
Slick, Kathleen, I thought. Real slick. He just smiled, then winked and boarded the plane. I thought I might be in love.
The car deposited us at the front doors of the lobby at the Times, where we were given the royal treatment – especially satisfying for a neophyte who casually strolled (or, rather, hobbled) past desks whose occupants had never considered her a contender.
I pictured myself at the "thank you" dinner in the Ford family summer home – had his term been long enough to get one of those? I fingered that notepad in my purse and made a mental note to bring my Instamatic camera.
Then, as our editorial parade culminated in a climb to the catwalk overlooking the massive presses that pulsed, throbbed, and slapped out the 1-million-plus copies of the Sunday paper, Jack, one step ahead of me, caught his foot on the edge of a small step but regained his balance just in the nick of time. All eyes went down. I could hear some giggling.
"Don't let anyone give you a hard time about it," I whispered over his shoulder.
He shrugged his shoulders and laughed as he announced proudly to the watchful audience, "What can I say? Like father, like son."
Then he turned to me and winked. I liked both generations of this family, I thought, as I tossed that notepad in the nearest trash bin.