Local resident had chance encounter with Ford

Jim Garrison, left, talks to his son John on Wednesday about the time he met President Ford over 30 years ago in Grand Junction, Colo. and had a drink with him. (CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks)

By Tonya Fennell: CNJ staff writer

A simple act of kindness, involving a dog and a pocketknife, led to a meeting between Jim Garrison and former President Gerald Ford.

A longtime Clovis resident, Garrison learned Wednesday morning that Ford had died Tuesday at 93. The former president’s passing brought to mind a chance meeting between the 82-year-old World War II veteran and Ford, who served as the 38th president of the United States from 1974 to 1977.

Ford was the longest living former president, surpassing Ronald Reagan, who died in June 2004, by more than a month, according to The Associated Press.

Ford’s office has not released the cause of death, but the former president had experienced a year of medical problems. According to a news story by The Associated Press, he was treated for pneumonia in January and had an angioplasty and pacemaker implant in August.

In a comfortable chair from his holiday-decorated living room, Garrison recalled the events that led to his face-to-face meeting with Ford. The father of three said he was teaching an insurance course in Grand Junction, Colo., in the mid-1970s.

“I was on a business trip,” he said, “and my territory included Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.”

Upon returning to his motel one evening, Garrison said he noticed a well-dressed woman attempting to remove an object from her golden retriever’s paw. “The woman caught my eye,” he said.

With pocketknife in hand, the self-described dog lover approached the woman to offer assistance.

“He (dog) had a sticker in his foot,” Garrison said, “and I got it out.” Within moments of extracting the sharp splinter from the canine’s padded paw, the good Samaritan said he was surrounded by “several men in dark suits.”

“I thought the Mafia had me,” Garrison said with a chuckle, “but it turns out it was six or eight Secret Service men and the woman turned out to be Mrs. Henry Kissinger.”

Henry Kissinger served as secretary of state during the Ford administration.

As a reward for assisting Nancy Kissinger, Garrison said he was invited to meet President Ford.

“I was thinking I’m just an old country boy,” he said, “and I’m going to meet the president.”

The meeting involved cocktails and business talk, Garrison said. “I asked what he was doing in Colorado,” Garrison said, “and I told him what I was doing there too.”

Garrison’s wife, Jackie, said she still remembers her husband coming home to tell the story of meeting the president all those years ago.

“He (Garrison) had no idea what he was getting himself into that day,” she said. “He got more than he bargained for.”

Although 30 years have come and gone since his meeting with Ford, the forthright octogenarian said he remembers the former president as being a jolly and friendly man.

“I tell you what,” Jim Garrison said, “we lost a good man.”