WASHINGTON -- Former presidents, a glittering array of old colleagues and everyday Americans honored Gerald R. Ford during a state funeral and other solemn ceremonies here yesterday that marked a national day of mourning for the 38th president.
Friends and family, fighting tears as they recalled a kind and modest man thrust into a leadership role in a time of crisis, paid their respects during a somber service at the National Cathedral.
"Jerry Ford's decency was the ideal remedy for the deception of Watergate. For this and so much more, his presidency will be remembered as a time of healing for our land," said former President George Bush, who served as Ford's director of central intelligence.
The elder Bush emphasized Ford's kindly character, describing him as a "Norman Rockwell painting come to life." He brought smiles to Ford's family and the capacity crowd with a joke about Ford's reputation as a "suspect" golfer.
His son, President Bush, said, "In President Ford, the world saw the best of America, and America found a man whose character and leadership would bring calm and healing to one of the most divisive moments in our nation's history."
A longtime Michigan congressman, Ford holds a unique place in American history: He was the only president never elected to either of the nation's top two offices. Ford was appointed vice president after Spiro T. Agnew pleaded no contest to federal tax evasion charges in a Baltimore courtroom. He ascended to the presidency in 1974, after Richard M. Nixon resigned. During his 2 1/2 years in office, he pardoned Nixon and oversaw the fitful end of America's involvement in Vietnam.
Ford died Dec. 26, at age 93, at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Thousands of mourners have paid tribute in California and in Washington, circling past his flag-draped coffin in the Capitol Rotunda. The scene was repeated yesterday evening in Ford's boyhood home of Grand Rapids, Mich., where his body lay in repose.
A final day of mourning in the nation's capital began with the removal of Ford's casket from the Capitol. After a 21-gun salute and the playing of "Hail to the Chief," the casket was placed in a hearse by a military honor guard and driven past adoring but mostly small crowds. Washington police in dress blues lined the route. Presidential staff assembled outside the White House. Spectators stood on street corners and sidewalks, offering personal salutes to the former president with farewell waves and hands held over their hearts.
Inside the cavernous National Cathedral, an invitation-only crowd of 3,000 included the three living ex-presidents, former first lady Nancy Reagan, Cabinet members, senators, congressmen and other dignitaries, past and present. Among those in attendance were a number of the nation's most celebrated government leaders of the past half-century, all of whom list the Ford administration on their resumes: Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
All served as honorary pallbearers and stood in the chill January breeze as Ford's casket was carried from the Capitol, into and out of the National Cathedral and finally to Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland, where it was loaded aboard a presidential 747 for a final flight to Michigan.
Among those who gave eulogies at the memorial service was Tom Brokaw, the broadcaster, who contrasted Ford with his predecessor and related the country's long-lasting affection for a man who "left the Oval Office a much better place." Kissinger, who stayed on after Nixon resigned to serve as Ford's secretary of state, recalled the 38th president's middle-American virtues of "sincerity, serenity and integrity" and his Cold War policy accomplishments.
"For his friends, he leaves an aching void. Having known Jerry Ford and worked with him will be a badge of honor for the rest of our lives," Kissinger said.
Except for the occasional smile at a speaker's fond recollection of her husband, Betty Ford and their four children mostly wiped away tears during the 75-minute service. Under soaring arches and fluttering flags, the family and a capacity crowd faced the flag-draped casket, which rested on a black table placed atop the nave.
It was a brisk and blustery day for the somber events. The city was unusually quiet, with federal government offices closed in commemoration. Financial markets across the country were shuttered in memoriam.
The events followed time-honored traditions, though the Ford family chose not to pull out all of the ceremonial stops, such as the horse-drawn caisson that carried former President Ronald Reagan's casket through the streets of the capital in 2004, accompanied by a riderless horse.
Soldiers and sailors stood at attention in crisp dress uniforms. The Armed Forces Chorus sang "How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place," and the U.S. Marine Chamber Orchestra played Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man." Flags flew at half-staff. The stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, usually closed to traffic, was opened for the 40-vehicle procession to drive slowly past.
The memorial at the National Cathedral began with an organist filling the arched interior with "America the Beautiful." President Bush escorted Betty Ford. A nine-man military honor guard, taking short steps, carried the casket.
Each of the eulogies touched on key moments in Ford's life, from his difficult childhood to college football at the University of Michigan, from his studies at Yale Law School to naval service during World War II. Speakers mentioned his leadership of House Republicans and stressed his role in shepherding a country dispirited by the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.
"President Ford's time in office was brief, but history will long remember the courage and common sense that helped restore trust in the workings of our democracy," President Bush said.
Bush's father prompted laughter when he remarked on Ford's penchant for attracting comedians' mimicry on programs such as Saturday Night Live. The elder Bush suggested that he could provide many examples, but "Not gonna do it, wouldn't be prudent," he said, parroting one of his own imitators from the show.
After the cathedral service, the casket was driven from Washington to Andrews Air Force Base. Well-wishers waved flags. A woman along Suitland Parkway, just across the Maryland line, held a handwritten sign that said, "Thank you." At Andrews, the casket was lifted aboard an Air Force jumbo jet to the strains of the spiritual "Going Home."
Just before 1:30 p.m., the jet took off for Grand Rapids, Ford's longtime home. Among those on board was former President Jimmy Carter, who defeated Ford in the 1976 election, a contest that, as President Bush said, might well have turned on Ford's controversial decision to issue a blanket pardon to Nixon for any Watergate crimes.
There will be a private funeral service at Grace Episcopal Church today in Grand Rapids and a private interment at the Ford Museum. Carter will speak at the funeral. Twenty-one aircraft will fly over during the burial.
Excerpts from eulogies delivered yesterday at the National Cathedral in Washington and the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Mich.:
President Ford's time in office was brief, but history will long remember the courage and common sense that helped restore trust in the workings of our democracy. ... In President Ford, the world saw the best of America and America found a man whose character and leadership would bring calm and healing to one of the most divisive moments in our nation's history. ... When he put his hand on his family Bible to take the presidential oath of office, he brought grace to a moment of great doubt." -- President Bush
As Americans, we generally eschew notions of the indispensable man, and yet during those traumatic times, few if any of our public leaders could have stepped into the breach and rekindled our national faith as did President Gerald R. Ford. ... History has a way of meshing man and moment. Just as President Lincoln's stubborn devotion to our Constitution kept the union together during the Civil War, and just as FDR's optimism was the perfect answer to the despair of the Great Depression, so, too, can we say that Jerry Ford's decency was the ideal remedy for the deception of Watergate. ... To know Jerry was to know a Norman Rockwell painting come to life, an avuncular figure quick to smile, frequently with his pipe in his mouth." -- Former President George H.W. Bush
For his friends, he leaves an aching void. Having known Jerry Ford and worked with him will be a badge of honor for the rest of our lives. ... In his understated way he did his duty as a leader, not as a performer playing to the gallery. ... Gerald Ford had the virtues of small-town America. ... Few historians will dispute that the Cold War could not have been won had not Gerald Ford emerged at a tragic period to restore equilibrium to America and confidence in its international role. ... According to an ancient tradition, God preserves humanity despite its many transgressions because at any one period, there exist 10 just individuals who, without being aware of their role, redeem mankind. Gerald Ford was such a man." -- Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger
Gerald Ford brought to the political arena no demons, no hidden agenda, no hit-list or acts of vengeance. He knew who he was, and he didn't require consultants or gurus to change him. Moreover, the country knew who he was, and despite occasional differences, large and small, it never lost its affection for this man from Michigan, the football player, the lawyer and the veteran, the congressman and suburban husband, the champion of Main Street values, who brought all of those qualities to the White House." --NBC newsman Tom Brokaw
You were a paradoxical gift of remarkable intellect and achievement wrapped in a plain brown wrapper." -- Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm