WASHINGTON – The Rev. James D. Ford, who served as chaplain of the House of Representatives for two decades, has died, his family said Thursday. He was 70.
Ford, who ministered to House members and their families from 1979 until his retirement last year, died Monday. His family did not disclose the cause of death.
The Lutheran pastor was born in South Dakota and graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., and the Augustana Theological Seminary in Rock Island, Ill. Both his father and grandfather were Lutheran pastors.
He started as a parish pastor in Ivanhoe, Minn., a community of 719 people, moving on to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1961. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson named Ford, then 33, the youngest military academy chaplain in history.
In 1976, Ford celebrated the nation's 200th birthday by joining two others from West Point in sailing a 31-foot boat from Plymouth, England, to West Point.
As the 58th chaplain of the House, Ford was responsible for opening each day's session with a prayer, counseling lawmakers and their families and presiding over their marriages and funerals.
"Through his many years of service he touched many lives, providing spiritual guidance to members and staff of all religions and political persuasions," House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said in a statement. "We will miss this fun-loving man, known for his spirit of adventure, who was loved and respected by so many people who work on the Hill."
The Rev. Daniel P. Coughlin, the House's first Roman Catholic chaplain, succeeded Ford in March last year. Previous to that, Ford had been given the honorary title of "chaplain emeritus."
Ford is survived by his wife of 47 years, Marcia Ruth Sodergren Ford. They had four daughters and a son.