Jerald F. terHorst, a newspaperman who resigned after one month as White House press secretary over his disagreement with President Gerald R. Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon, died Wednesday of congestive heart failure at his home in Asheville, N.C. He was 87.
TerHorst, Washington bureau chief for the Detroit News, was Ford's first appointment in 1974 when Nixon resigned the presidency and Ford, then vice president, succeeded him. Thirty days later, Ford announced that he would pardon Nixon for any Watergate-related crimes he might have committed. Upon learning of the pardon the night before the announcement, terHorst said he was unable to defend the decision.
"It really was for me an agonizing decision," he later said. "I stayed up most of that night just formulating a three-paragraph letter of resignation."
Quitting over matters of principle is so rare in Washington that the letter gave him membership in what former Secretary of State Dean Acheson once called "the most exclusive club in the America - men in public life who have resigned in the cause of conscience."
TerHorst wrote in his resignation letter: "As your spokesman, I do not know how I could credibly defend that action in the absence of a like decision to grant absolute pardon to the young men who evaded Vietnam military service as a matter of conscience and the absence of pardons for former aides and associates of Mr. Nixon who have been charged with crimes - and imprisoned - stemming from the same Watergate situation."
TerHorst returned to newspapering as a senior correspondent and syndicated columnist and in 1981 became director of public affairs for the Ford Motor Co. He moved from Alexandria, Va., to North Carolina in 2006.
In 1974, he wrote the book "Gerald Ford and the Future of the Presidency" and five years later co-wrote "The Flying White House: The Story of Air Force One" with Air Force One pilot Col. Ralph Albertazzie.
His wife of 64 years, Louise Roth terHorst, died last year.