YORBA LINDA — In the shadow of her husband's boyhood home, former First Lady Pat Nixon was remembered Saturday by relatives and friends as a woman whose uncommon emotional strength and enduring devotion will mark her place in history.
The hourlong morning funeral service, set in the grassy amphitheater of the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace, brought giants of the entertainment industry and an extended political family that included former Presidents Gerald R. Ford and Ronald Reagan.
"This is a time for tears but also a time of smiles and happiness in our hearts," the Rev. Billy Graham said as he opened the service under a bank of ashen clouds.
Graham, a close Nixon family friend and confidant, joined Gov. Pete Wilson, U.S. Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and family friends in personal eulogies emphasizing Mrs. Nixon's displays of tenderness at home and along the many campaign trails of the "Dick and Pat partnership."
The 372 invited guests--some of them White House associates from the Watergate-era--sat in silence on white lawn chairs facing the library's reflection pool, while an estimated 200 others gathered in the parking lot just outside the grounds to hear the funeral service broadcast over loudspeakers.
The knot of onlookers, many of whom were among the 5,000 who attended a public viewing Friday evening, broke into quiet applause as dignitaries--among them Bob Hope and former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger--arrived by limousine.
Mrs. Nixon died Tuesday of lung cancer, the day after her 53rd wedding anniversary. She was 81.
Many of the invited guests took their places more than an hour before the service's 10 a.m. scheduled start, when Graham led former President Nixon and the immediate family to their seats near the former First Lady's rose garden. Upon seeing the assembled crowd, Nixon drew a handkerchief over his mouth and broke into gentle sobs.
The audience stood quietly as six U.S. Marine honor guards placed Mrs. Nixon's mahogany casket beneath a white canopy, where it was surrounded by flower arrangements of every kind. In the background, the Master Chorale of Orange County performed "My Country, 'Tis of Thee."
Graham and four eulogists took turns at a podium; their remarks were followed by brief musical interludes by the chorale and the Chapman University Choir. The selections included "For All the Saints Who From Their Labors Rest," "This Is My Song" and "You'll Never Walk Alone."
Besides their unyielding praise for the former First Lady, each of the speakers also made general references to the personal hardships Mrs. Nixon endured in childhood and as the wife of a political figure who knew both triumph and profound tragedy.
"Few women in public life have suffered as she has suffered and done it with such grace," Graham said. "In all the years I knew her, I never heard her say anything unkind about anyone."
Cynthia Hardin Milligan, a close family friend and daughter of President Nixon's agriculture secretary Clifford Hardin, said that the former First Lady's appetite for adventure helped carry her through difficult times.
"It was that sense of adventure which led her to become half of the Dick and Pat partnership that began in California 53 years ago and brought them to heights of fame, power, turmoil, frustration and peace that few have experienced," she said.
Milligan also spoke of "a woman of substance" who exuded warmth in her family life, where she was not above spending hours playing imaginary games with her grandchildren. Mrs. Nixon, Milligan said, was a perfect fit for the code name given to her by the Secret Service: Starlight.
"I came to know and appreciate Mrs. Nixon in her roles as mother, grandmother, wife and friend," she said. "She always created an atmosphere of love and beauty in every Nixon home, including the White House."
Milligan's tribute was preceded by a eulogy from James D. (Don) Hughes, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who served as a Nixon military aide and accompanied Mrs. Nixon on a 1958 trip to Venezuela during which her car was targeted by anti-American rioters.
During that trip, Hughes told the audience, he was bowled over by the First Lady's display of courage. He said Mrs. Nixon's car was met by an angry mob that had been "whipped into a frenzy," roaring insults and spitting on the motorcade.
"Throughout the ride, I never saw her flinch when the car was hit with various missiles and clubs," Hughes said. "She remained totally composed, and that alone made it easier for me and the Secret Service. . . . We left Caracas the next day through a tear-gas mist. . . . But we left in the Nixon style, with heads up and all flags flying."
As a young Nixon political advance man in 1962, Gov. Wilson said Saturday, he was introduced to a woman whose fragile physical appearance belied an inner strength that radiated composure on the campaign trail, where Nixon waged an unsuccessful challenge to unseat then-Gov. Edmund G. Brown.