World renowned evangelist Billy Graham described former U.S. President Gerald R. Ford as one of his closest friends, following the death of the much adored figure-head.
"President Ford was one of the closest friends I have had in the political world, and I have the greatest admiration for him and his wife Betty," Graham said after Betty Ford made known her husband’s death on Tuesday. Gerald Ford was 93.
"I remember in his Inaugural speech he said, ‘You have not elected me as your president by your ballots, and so I ask you to confirm me as your president with your prayers ...,’" Graham recalled.
"God certainly answered those prayers. President Ford was the great healer, and brought us together. We owe a great debt to him for how he put principle over politics at a crucial time in the life of [the USA]."
Gerald Ford was born in Omaha, Neb., and lived with Betty, 88, at Rancho Mirage, about 130 miles east of Los Angeles. The former president suffered ill health this year and was taken to hospital four times for tests and angioplasty. He suffered a stroke in 2000.
A statement from Betty Ford said Tuesday: "My family joins me in sharing the difficult news that Gerald Ford, our beloved husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather, has passed away at 93 years of age."
The statement did not give the cause of death.
As the only U.S. president never to win a national election, Ford was chosen as Richard Nixon's vice-president in 1973 when Spiro Agnew resigned amid corruption charges.
He then succeeded to the top office when Nixon became embroiled in the Watergate scandal in 1972.
Following his stroke, Gerald Ford slipped further from the limelight. However, he did join former presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton at a memorial shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. He was also at the funeral of Ronald Reagan in June 2004.