1-03 Goodbyes to Dee Johnson and Gerald Ford
By JAY MILLER
SANTA FE -- The holiday season often is a bad time for deaths. This year, a past president, a former first lady and the godfather of soul all left us within a few days.
I'll leave it to those in the music business to memorialize James Brown but I do have comments about the deaths in the world of politics.
Former First Lady Dee Johnson's death hit me like a ton of bricks. We weren't close. I seldom am with first ladies because of things I say about their husbands.
But Dee Johnson was one of the last people I would expect to die of unknown natural causes at age 54. She was such a vibrant, robust person, who could wield a hammer or welding tools with the best of them.
I don't know if it is true or not, but a favorite story around the capitol was that she knew the construction business better than her then-husband, Gov. Gary Johnson, and was the main reason they became millionaires.
I'm not a skier, but I'm told that she was as much a daredevil on the slopes as he is. She took up metal sculpting as first lady and produced some classy pieces that graced the mansion grounds until their departure.
Dee also saved the state some money. She supervised the remodeling projects that went on during her eight years in the governor's residence. They were done her way and she knew how to get good quality at cut rates. She also put those skills to work at Habitat for Humanity.
That was only one of Mrs. Johnson's many charitable activities. She cared especially deeply about children's and women's issues. Her most public effort came when she decided to ban smoking from the Capitol Building.
It was a tall order because an inordinate number of lawmakers seemed to smoke. The stress of the legislative process may have been part of the reason.
On her first try, she got only the public banned from smoking. Legislators exempted themselves in their offices and in the House and Senate chambers. Dee didn't give up. On the second try, she got smoking in the Capitol Building banned completely.
An autopsy revealed nothing unusual. A toxicology screening will take four months. Maybe one last service Dee Johnson can perform for the state is to bring an awareness of the underfunding of the state crime lab that causes such an unreasonable delay.
Former President Gerald Ford had connections to New Mexico. He was responsible for breaking our 64-year record of having voted for the winning presidential candidate in every election since statehood.
In 1976 he beat Jimmy Carter by a quarter of one percent among New Mexicans. Carter won the election nationally by about the same margin. The 2000 results between George Bush and Al Gore were similar but even closer.
That means New Mexico can boast that even when it misses picking the presidential winner, we come within a half a percent of the national result. It still makes us the best bellwether state in the nation.
The Fords have an even closer tie to New Mexico than election results. Their daughter Susan Bales has lived in Corrales since 1997. She is a photojournalist, author and public speaker.
Bales has been on the board of trustees of the Bosque School in Albuquerque's North Valley since 1998 and has secured a significant amount of family money to support the private preparatory school, including a $1.25 million grant to complete the Gerald and Betty Ford Library. Ford spoke at the library dedication in 2001.
Susan Ford Bales also is chairman of the Betty Ford Center, a member of the Gerald R. Ford Museum and Library Foundation and is active in the National Breast Cancer Awareness program.
She married attorney Vaden Bales in 1989. They have five children from previous marriages.
JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail) firstname.lastname@example.org