The late president Gerald R. Ford, eulogized Tuesday for his modest and humble leadership as the nation's 38th president, was an honorary alumnus of Saint Mary's College of California.
Ford was awarded the honorary alumnus status because of his connections to the College, which developed during his service as a U.S. Navy lieutenant commander in World War II.
Former College president Brother Mel Anderson, who met Ford at his home in Rancho Mirage in 1993, recalled talking to Ford about his time at Saint Mary's toward the end of the war.
"He remembered living in Orinda and driving over to the campus each morning," Brother Mel said. "He said he really enjoyed his time here."
The Navy chose the College in late 1941 as one of four Pre-Flight schools to train pilots, and from 1942 to 1946 nearly the entire campus was taken over by thousands of Navy men, many housed in temporary barracks.
In 1945, after Ford had earned 10 battle stars as an officer on the U.S.S. Monterey aircraft carrier in the South Pacific, Ford served as a physical training and academic instructor at the Pre-Flight School on the SMC campus.
While an instructor at the school, Ford was one of the leaders of the Football Division. The Navy included football as part of its preflight school curriculum because the sport developed "the qualities desirable in an aviator - discipline, teamwork, and toughness," according to the Navy's History of the U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School at St. Mary's California.
Ford had played on national championship football teams at the University of Michigan in the 1930s and was voted the team's most valuable player after the 1934 season.
In addition to a number of honorary degrees, Ford earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan in 1935 and a law degree from Yale in 1941.
Brother Mel and Regent Gerry Fitzpatrick presented the Saint Mary's honorary alumni plaque to Ford at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. in 1993.
"I have wonderful memories of my limited service at St. Mary's," Ford wrote Brother Mel in 1993.
Office of College Communications