A Ford in our Future

I like to kid recently retired city historian Ed Ford about being given more farewell parties than Frank Sinatra, and he laughs. But Thursday’s official send-off at City Hall was the best, sentimental without being maudlin, respectful, not pandering, warm, not unctuous. And they held it in the place where Ford, as the city’s historical conscience, made his bones, city hall.

Ford, who turned 101 in April, was a leader in Kingston’s nascent historical preservation movement for almost a decade before Kingston government moved to abandon its nationally designated 1875 city hall in favor of what one historical architect from Virginia derisively called a “neo-A&P” building in Rondout.

City officials had gambled that building a new city hall in an urban renewal wasteland would attract developers. It didn’t.

It could have been much worse for the so-called “old city hall” during its long, 28 years of deliberate neglect. There was talk, serious talk, among city officials about leveling the building to provide parking for Kingston Hospital.

Having lost the post office a few years earlier, Ed Ford and a contingent of preservationists would have none of that. Ten years before being appointed city historian, Ford and others picketed the vacant building with a 20-foot “Save City Hall” banner. It kept the wrecking balls at bay until Mayor T.R. Gallo, in 1998, embarked on the building’s restoration.

None of this was mentioned at Ford’s farewell party on Tuesday. There was no need, that sorry episode being on a par with the British burning and the demolition of the post office on Broadway in Kingston history.

Rather, it was to celebrate the life and legacy of that rare person who can truly be called beloved.

As mayor Steve Noble noted, Ford was on the job until the end, up to and including recommending his successor, 28-year-old Taylor Bruck, an archivist in the county clerk’s office. “I wouldn’t dream of appointing anyone without Ed Ford’s blessing,” Noble told an audience of about 100. And, typically, Ford made it easy on Hizzoner in recommending only one name, the eminently qualified and eager to start young Bruck. Ford also oversaw the transfer of his voluminous records from his modest home on Valentine Avenue to county care and catalog at its climate-controlled archives off Foxhall Avenue

Bruck, whom the mayor warmly called “a really nice guy,” thanked just about everybody in the room, especially his mother for instilling in him a love of Kingston and its fabled history. He seemed just a bit in awe of the man he was succeeding – but whom no one could replace. “I think they should put up a statue on Academy Green of Mr. Ford, right next to Peter Stuyvesant,” he said. Ford got a kick out of that one.

The mayor, a quick with in his own right, got the last laugh, however. “You can call me anytime,” he said to the guest of honor seated in front of him. “Just don’t call about potholes.” (Ironically, Ford wrote a popular book about city streets, called Street Wise, back in the days when they used to fill potholes promptly.)

Ford’s remarks were brief. A humble man, he thanked the many people he had worked with over more than four decades and expressed confidence in the movement going forward under more youthful leadership.

I liked Bruck’s idea of a statue, or at least a plaque in honor of the historian at historic Academy Green. George Clinton, Peter Stuyvesant, and Henry Hudson would be in good company.

And while they’re at it, they might consider sharply increasing the shameful $750 allocated for Ford’s department.

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