is a permanently bold-face, all-caps, household name, even without his recent prominence in the news due to dying on December 26th
Far less prominent is the name Oliver Sipple
, who at most will remain a footnote in history. Without Sipple's intervention
, however, Ford would not have seen the end of 1975, rather than the ripe old age of 93. Nor, I imagine, would Sipple
have wanted even this footnote in history.Sipple's
story is sometimes used as an example in journalism ethics classes. On September 22, 1975, President Ford was leaving the Saint Francis Hotel in San Francisco, before a crowd of about 3,000 onlookers who had turned out to see the President. In the crowd was Oliver Sipple
, former U.S. Marine and Vietnam veteran, who as he watched the scene, saw a woman near him pull out a .38 pistol and aim it at Ford.Sipple
lunged at the woman's arm just as she pulled the trigger — in the above photo, Ford is seen reacting to the sound of the pistol shot. The shot missed, and the woman, Sarah Jane Moore, was arrested (she is still in jail serving life in California); police and secret service personnel immediately acclaimed Sipple
as the hero who had saved the President.
The instant hero became an instant victim as well. Sipple
was horrified by the attention, not least because he was gay and was barely out of the closet, even in San Francisco, and none of his family knew of his orientation. He asked reporters who thronged around him not to mention that he was gay, but soon gay politician Harvey Milk, called Sipple
a "gay hero" and said his act "will help break the stereotype of homosexuals."
A newspaper in Sipple's
home state of Michigan carried the unwelcome news to his parents, and they immediately disowned him. When he called home, they hung up. In 1979, when his mother died, his father did not bother to contact Sipple
to let him know.Sipple
turned to drink. On February 2, 1989, he was found dead in his bed, at the age of forty-seven. At least former President Ford sent a letter to Sipple's
few remaining friends, acknowledging his role in saving his life, and mourning his passing.