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Remembering President Ford

A goodbye well suited to the man

The final services in Washington strike a tone befitting Ford's stature and humility, before he is laid to rest.

January 03, 2007|Maura Reynolds and P.J. Huffstutter | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — The nation's capital bade a stately farewell Tuesday to Gerald R. Ford, the 38th president, at a funeral where he was lauded by the current president as "a good and decent man" whose affability cloaked a firm resolve.

President Bush escorted Ford's widow, Betty, down the long center aisle of Washington National Cathedral to the front row, where she sat with her sons and daughter, her face etched in grief.

"Gerald Ford assumed the presidency when the nation needed a leader of character and humility, and we found it in the man from Grand Rapids," Bush told those gathered, who included former presidents and first ladies. "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."

The state funeral, which included music by half a dozen choirs, bands and orchestras, culminated four days of ceremonies in Washington. The service reflected the character and career of the man: the earnest Midwestern congressman, the reassuring vice president and the accidental president who steadied the nation after President Nixon's resignation.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday January 06, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 68 words Type of Material: Correction
Ford's state funeral: An article Wednesday in Section A about services for President Ford described Donald H. Rumsfeld as the recently replaced secretary of State; he was recently replaced as secretary of Defense. In describing the services in Grand Rapids, Mich., the article said lock-picking tools used in the Watergate break-in were upstairs at the library; the tools are upstairs in the museum, where the services were held.

"History has a way of matching man and moment," said former President George H.W. Bush, comparing Ford with other presidents who ruled in dark times. "And 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 antidote 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."

Ford, who was appointed vice president after the resignation of Spiro T. Agnew, became president in 1974, after Nixon left office to avoid impeachment, and served until the end of the term in 1977. He died at home last week in Rancho Mirage. At 93, he was the oldest of the former presidents alive.

After the service, Ford's body was flown aboard Air Force One to his hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., where his presidential museum is located and where he lay in state through the night.

He is to be buried on the grounds today.

In Grand Rapids, thousands of somber-faced mourners lined the streets of downtown throughout the day, shivering in the brisk winter air as they waited for his motorcade and a chance to view Ford's casket.

Visitors steadily filed into the museum. Boy Scouts and police officers came first, followed by the curious and the mournful, whose mood leaned less toward sorrow and more toward pride in one of their own.

"I remember all the hoopla they had for President Reagan when he died, and I'm glad there's been far less for Jerry Ford," said Lara Lynn Dreeter, 48, a high school teacher who drove from Indianapolis, Ind., to pay her respects. "He wasn't a former actor. He wasn't a Kennedy. He was a good ol' Midwesterner and we honor our dead with restraint, not flash.

"To do anything else would be an insult to his memory."

The presidential funeral was the second in less than three years for the nation's capital, which gave Reagan a grand send-off in 2004.

Although Ford's funeral had all the military trappings accorded a former commander in chief -- 21-gun salutes, honor guards, military choruses -- there were also notes of the ordinary.

Ford's children greeted members of the public who came to pay their respects as their father lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda. Ford's casket was carried from the Capitol to the cathedral in a conventional hearse instead of a horse-drawn caisson. At Andrews Air Force base, a troop of Boy Scouts, one in blue jeans, saluted the only Eagle Scout to have served as president.

And when Ford's casket arrived in Michigan, the marching band from the University of Michigan -- where he had been a star football player -- struck up a somber version of the Michigan fight song. As president, Ford had preferred that tune to "Hail to the Chief."

Former NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw, whom Ford had asked to deliver his eulogy, praised him for bringing "Main Street values" to the White House.

"Once there, he stayed true to form, never believing that he was suddenly wise and infallible because he drank his morning coffee from a cup with the presidential seal," Brokaw said.

The funeral for a transitional president came during another time of transition in the nation's capital as political leaders prepared for this week's shift of congressional power from Republicans to Democrats. Signs of the impending switch were evident: Incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) sat directly behind her predecessor J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

Indeed, the funeral served as a reminder of a different era of Republicanism, when, as Ford famously said, politicians could disagree without being disagreeable. Daughter Susan Ford Bales read a passage from the New Testament that admonishes "be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, for your anger does not produce God's righteousness."

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