Mourners filled the A-frame-style sanctuary in pews that horseshoed around the raised altar, which had two floral wreaths on either side, highlighted by peach-colored roses, Ford's favorite. A white cloth shrouded the coffin, with a piercing blue cross embroidered into the tapestry.
The organist played a heavy dirge while family, guests and dignitaries took their seats. The first row was reserved for Ford's children, sons Jack, Michael and Steven, and daughter Susan Ford Bales.
Former President Bush escorted Nancy Reagan, aided by a cane and walking gingerly, to the second row, where they sat together. Hillary Clinton sat next to Bush, and the two could be seen chatting animatedly before the service. Michelle Obama sat on the other side of Clinton, with Rosalynn Carter next to her.
After the funeral, Ford's casket remained in the church for public viewing until midnight.
Buses started to roll in around 6 p.m., offering admirers a chance to say farewell. The mourners were escorted inside the church and allowed to walk up toward the altar to view the casket, then quickly back to the waiting buses.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, July 16, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 57 words Type of Material: Correction
Betty Ford funeral: In the July 13 LATExtra section, a caption for a photo accompanying an article about the funeral of former First Lady Betty Ford said that Air Force officers were standing guard at her casket while she lay in repose. The two guards pictured are a technical sergeant and a senior airman, both enlisted ranks.
Florist Louis Frazao drove from Palmdale for the viewing. Frazao immigrated to the United States from Portugal when the Fords were in the White House, a coincidence of timing that endeared the first family to him.
"She brings back memories of my youth, of happy times," said Frazao.
The 59-year-old said that as a young man he battled a drinking problem, and was inspired by the former first lady's drive to seek help for her own addictions and help others at the Betty Ford Center.
A Ford Center worker, Gwendolyn Walton of Banning, was another of the evening visitors. Walton said she has been in recovery for five years and felt the pull to come because Ford had played a significant role in her life.
"I thank God for the services that she's done, and I learned a lot about reaching back and helping someone else like she did," said Walton, 48. "I probably wouldn't be here today if she hadn't done what she's done, not just for women but for everyone in recovery."
A second funeral will be held Thursday in Grand Rapids, where Gerald Ford is buried at his presidential museum. Former First Lady Barbara Bush, the wife of President George H. W. Bush, is expected to attend that event. Her daughter-in-law, former First Lady Laura Bush, was not planning to attend the services, citing a scheduling conflict.
Willon reported from Palm Desert and Landsberg from Los Angeles.
Times staff writer Kate Mather contributed to this report.