Every four years, South Carolina’s “first in the South” presidential primaries draw national attention to the Palmetto State. Since 1988, the state has been particularly popular with Republican candidates, though the Democrats have competed in some years as well. Many candidates have stopped in Spartanburg over the years, with almost obligatory stops at the Beacon. Some have come to the Wofford campus and others have spoken nearby, and students have had the opportunity to see many of them up close.
College records indicate that three future or former presidents have spoken from the platform in Leonard Auditorium. Woodrow Wilson came before he was president, George H. W. Bush came while he was running for vice president in 1980, and former president Gerald Ford spoke at Wofford in 1980 as well.
President Ford came to Wofford on April 14 and 15, 1980 as part of the college’s Mayfair Lecture series, a program established by Mayfair Mills President and US Secretary of Commerce Fred Dent. Ford’s trip to Wofford was arranged through the American Enterprise Institute. On Monday night, he addressed a private dinner in the Burwell Building, where he argued that President Jimmy Carter’s “catastrophic economic problems have caused the American people to lose confidence in him.” Ford predicted that Republican candidate Ronald Reagan, or any Republican, “would have a good chance against Carter.”
On Tuesday, he spoke to two classes in Shipp Hall Lounge and addressed the student body at a campus convocation. He also held a press conference in Leonard Auditorium. At the campus convocation, Ford was greeted by a standing ovation. In his address, he called for improvements in the economy, increasing the size of the military, and called for implementing an effective energy policy. With the country experiencing economic
hard times, and with the Cold War still very much a part of American life, Ford called for increases to the M-1 missile program and the Trident nuclear submarine fleet. His energy independence proposals called for increased oil drilling and coal mining, expanding conservation measures, greater use of nuclear energy and exploring alternative sources of energy.
The audience applauded Ford’s defense of his decision to pardon Richard Nixon, and when a student asked his views on legalizing marijuana, they applauded his opposition.
Ford’s visit resulted in five articles in the next Old Gold and Black, including one about the Secret Service presence on campus and another about the college’s efforts to make the campus attractive before Ford’s visit.
Photos – President Gerald Ford is escorted by Wofford President Joe Lesesne; Ford addressing the campus in Leonard Auditorium. Documents include the two-day detailed schedule prepared for President Ford.