Dignitaries, celebrities fill National Cathedral

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - It took a small fleet of buses to carry them all.

Under a funeral-gray sky, with sirens blaring in the distance and crowds lining the streets, a stream of governors, senators and members of the House of Representatives and their spouses stepped out into the middle of Wisconsin Avenue in the shadow of the National Cathedral.


They mingled on the sidewalk with heads of state wearing fattiyehs and fezzes, dodging Town Cars and limousines that carried foreign leaders, former presidents and other dignitaries to the somber center of action in Washington yesterday: the funeral of Ronald Reagan.

"It's properly overcast - there's a quiet dignity to the day," Gov. Bob Wise of West Virginia said as he waited in a long line to get inside the cathedral while Secret Service agents cut a path up the steps so a few Supreme Court justices could pass unobstructed.


Sitting at the highest point in the nation's capital, the cathedral housed an invitation-only crowd of 4,000 under its vaulted ceilings - all paying their final tribute to the 40th president.

Outside on the streets of Northwest Washington, onlookers huddling against wind and rain gathered to catch a last glimpse of Reagan's motorcade.

"It's a gracious mist that kisses your face today," said Nicholas Hollis, 60, standing on the curb a few blocks from the cathedral with his wife and their Dalmatian, which sported an American flag bandanna. "A fitting goodbye."

Many of those scattered along the procession route and clustered near the cathedral said they had been unable to watch the funeral cortege Wednesday or visit the Capitol Rotunda this week to see Reagan's body lying in state. They seized their last chance to say goodbye.

David Schratz, 43, a bus driver from Dallas, flew into Washington as soon as he could get off work. He missed everything but the hearse, gliding in and out of the police barricades around the cathedral.

"It was worth it, just to see that," Schratz said.

It was "moving," former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger said after the service, "and it showed that we are basically a united people - that the values represented here, these are American values and - I like to think - world values."

Even after a week of exhaustive news coverage of Reagan's death, the sight of his casket entering the cathedral borne by a military honor guard touched a chord for many attendees.


"When you see the coffin come in, that's a sort of symbolic, terminal moment," Kissinger said.

Others were moved by the sight of Nancy Reagan, 82, whose frail figure has been a portrait of graceful grief all week, leaving the cathedral with her military escort, trailing the casket of her beloved "Ronnie."

"That's when people lost it the most," said Fred F. Fielding, who served as Reagan's White House counsel. "It's been a tough week. Everybody's held hands all week."

Organ music played as the guests piled into the grand cathedral, lingering in front of their pews to savor the rare gathering of so many familiar faces under one roof.

Former President Bill Clinton, accompanied by his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, visited with many people before the service, shaking hands with and gripping the arms of guests including King Abdullah of Jordan and dozens of members of Congress.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev took his place beside former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who wore an elaborate black hat.


Former President Gerald R. Ford and his wife, Betty, sat next to former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, behind the Clintons. Society columnist Liz Smith was on hand, as were pianist Marvin Hamlisch and comedian Joan Rivers, rounding out the crowd of celebrities who came to pay their respects.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his wife, Kendel, sat in the cathedral's north balcony with the other governors.

The funeral procession passed Geri Maloney, 60, who held an American flag steady in one hand and a small sign that read "Godspeed President Reagan" in the other. People around her shifted umbrellas to place a hand over their hearts. Police officers lining the street, clad in slick black raincoats, saluted. No one made a sound.

Mourners on the street huddled in circles around a few radios broadcasting the service, heads bowed and eyes closed. Amid the displays of sadness, a smattering of protesters gathered near the cathedral.

One group, from the D.C. Anti-War Network, held up signs bemoaning Reagan's policy choices. One asked, "Where is the memorial service for the 200,000 Nicaraguans?"

As the service drew to a close inside the cathedral, the cathedral bells pealed 40 times for the 40th president.


"I thought it was a fitting tribute to the president, and it gave the nation a chance to say goodbye," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat.

Marlin Fitzwater, who was press secretary to Reagan and the elder Bush, said as he turned to walk from the cathedral, "It takes a great man to rouse the emotions of the country."