Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Mourners Bid Final Farewell to Ford

Thousands of flag-waving mourners watched as a motorcade carrying the body of Gerald R. Ford made its way one last time through the streets of his boyhood hometown to the Ford family church, where an honor guard carried the late president's casket inside for a final funeral service.

His widow wiped away tears as she sat with their four children and more than 300 dignitaries and family friends at Grace Episcopal Church.

Former President Jimmy Carter, who defeated Ford in 1976 but later became a close friend, sat in a front pew, flanked by Vice President Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who served in Ford's cabinet as his chief of staff and as his defense secretary.

Rumsfeld praised Ford as "a patriot who knew that freedom is precious," and he recalled the day Ford took over the presidency after the resignation of Richard Nixon.

"The pressures were enormous, the stakes were high ... and the American people were holding their breath," Rumsfeld said. "Few doubted that the gentleman from Michigan would keep his word. That was his special magic."

After the service, the late president was to be interred in a private ceremony on his presidential museum grounds in downtown Grand Rapids, overlooking the Grand River.

Wednesday's ceremonies capped six days of official mourning, from services in California to the nation's capital to a 17-hour viewing Tuesday night and Wednesday morning at the museum. Some 57,000 mourners with bundled-up children in tow had waited hours to file past the flag-draped casket during the night. Some said silent prayers, and young Boy Scouts saluted the 38th president.

"There aren't too many politicians like that any more. They kind've broke the mold when they made him," said Bill Phillips, a state government photographer who signed a book of condolences Wednesday morning at the museum.

Grand Rapids was the city's that Ford called home. His family had belonged to Grace Episcopal Church since the early 1940s, and Ford played football for the University of Michigan's national championship teams in 1932 and 1933.

Many of the mourners at the museum and lining the roads during his funeral procession on Wednesday wore Michigan hats and sweat shirts in his honor.

Ford, who became president after Richard Nixon resigned, died Dec. 26 at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He was 93.

Unlike Wednesday's services in the 350-seat Michigan church, the elaborate national funeral service in Washington on Tuesday had drawn 3,000 people. President Bush spoke Tuesday, as did NBC newsman Tom Brokaw and Ford's secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, among others.

"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," President Bush said in his eulogy.

Bush's father, the first President Bush, called Ford a "Norman Rockwell painting come to life" and cracked gentle jokes about Ford's reputation as an errant golfer.

Kissinger paid tribute to Ford's leadership in achieving nuclear arms control with the Soviets, pushing for the first political agreement between Israel and Egypt and helping to bring majority rule to southern Africa.

"In his understated way he did his duty as a leader, not as a performer playing to the gallery," Kissinger said. "Gerald Ford had the virtues of small town America."

Brokaw said Ford brought to office "no demons, no hidden agenda, no hit list or acts of vengeance," an oblique reference to the air of subterfuge that surrounded Nixon in his final days.

Associated Press writers Calvin Woodward in Washington and Tim Martin, James Prichard and Ken Thomas in Grand Rapids contributed to this report.

No comments :