JIM WATSON / AFP
Top officials from today
and three decades ago, including several who worked
for President Ford, gathered at Washington National
WASHINGTON – The nation bid farewell to Gerald Rudolph
Ford yesterday in a state funeral that mixed the pomp of an
official service with the laughter of friends remembering
the 38th president as an ordinary man who assumed power in
extraordinary times and calmed a troubled nation.
The funeral in the majestic Washington National Cathedral
was the next-to-last phase of the mourning that began when
Ford, who had lived longer than any U.S. president, died
Dec. 26 at age 93 at his home in Rancho Mirage.
This emotional day ended amid longtime friends with
Ford's return to his hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., where
he will be buried today near his presidential museum.
But even for the former president's widow, Betty Ford,
and the large Ford clan, laughter battled with tears for
pre-eminence at yesterday's service. In life, Ford had
shunned pretension. His hand-picked eulogists had no room
for it in their heartfelt comments from the pulpit.
President Bush even drew a laugh and a smile from the
former first lady when he recalled that Ford's “idea of a
honeymoon was driving to Ann Arbor with his bride so they
could attend a brunch before the Michigan-Northwestern”
The 43rd president hailed Ford for the grace he brought
to the White House when Ford was thrust into the Oval Office
on Aug. 9, 1974, as Richard Nixon resigned the presidency.
Ford became the only president never to have been elected to
the presidency or the vice presidency.
“President Ford assumed office at a terrible time in our
nation's history,” Bush said. “Amid all the turmoil, Gerald
Ford was a rock of stability. And 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.”
Outside the cathedral, Washington was enjoying a mild
January day with temperatures reaching into the 50s. But a
brisk wind made it seem much colder, at times compelling
Ford's four children and his grandchildren to huddle around
Betty Ford in an effort to shield her from the elements.
The children had been introduced to the nation as
teenagers or young adults. But now Michael is 56; Jack, 54;
Steven, 50; and Susan Ford Bales, 49. Jack Ford is a
longtime resident of San Diego County who lives in Rancho
On a national day of mourning that closed most of the
federal government as well as financial markets, thousands
of people watched the funeral procession as the hearse and
its attending limousines worked their way from the Capitol,
where Ford's body had lain in state since Saturday, past the
White House and the vice presidential residence, finally
stopping at the cathedral, which is perched atop the highest
hill in Washington.
Inside were gathered top officials of the three branches
of government – from today and three decades ago – and the
diplomatic corps, including those friends who had worked
with Ford during his long service as congressman, vice
president and president.
Chief Justice John Roberts mingled with Vice President
Dick Cheney, while former secretaries of state Colin Powell
and Henry Kissinger talked. Seated together in two rows were
the current president and first lady, Laura Bush; the three
former presidents, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill
Clinton; and former first ladies Rosalynn Carter, Nancy
Reagan, Barbara Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The chatting stopped when the current president slowly
escorted Betty Ford, 88, down the long aisle of the historic
The most emotional remembrance was offered by Bush's
father, the 41st president. George H.W. Bush likened Ford to
a “Norman Rockwell painting come to life.” He painted a fond
portrait of “an avuncular figure quick to smile, frequently
with his pipe in his mouth.”
He also hearkened back to the Nixon scandals, saying that
“Jerry Ford's decency was the ideal remedy for the deception
Like others, Bush joked about Ford's reputation as a
golfer, quoting the late president as once saying, “I know
I'm playing better golf because I'm hitting fewer
Bush also struck a more serious note in recalling a role
many have forgotten Ford played: He was the last living
member of the Warren Commission that investigated President
Kennedy's assassination. “Conspiracy theorists can say what
they will,” Bush said, but Ford's credibility gave the
commission “the final definitive say on this tragic matter
. . . because Jerry Ford put his name on it and Jerry Ford's
word was always good.”
Tom Brokaw, the former NBC anchor who covered the Ford
White House, was invited to deliver a eulogy in a sign of
Ford's affection for reporters. Brokaw drew one of the
biggest laughs of the service when he reached back 30 years
for an incident linked to San Diego that demonstrated the
president's ability to laugh at himself.
Brokaw recalled how delighted Ford had been during a 1976
campaign event in San Diego when he spotted a man in a
chicken suit. The man was Ted Giannoulas, who had donned the
suit as a promotion for radio station KGB.
He later became famous as the San Diego Chicken. But his
earliest fame came when New York Times reporter James
Naughton – with the help of Cheney, who was then Ford's
chief of staff – bought the top of the chicken costume and
wore it later in the day to a campaign news conference in
“The chicken head was a bigger story than the president
and no one was more pleased than the man that we honor here
today,” Brokaw said.
The stunt delighted Ford so much he had the costume
placed in his presidential library.
Brokaw also hailed Ford for his simplicity and basic
“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,” he said.
Kissinger, who served in Ford's Cabinet, talked of Ford's
legacy, praising the steps he took to conclude the Vietnam
War, deal with the Soviet Union, ease Middle East tensions
and reassure allies left anxious by Watergate.
“Historians will debate for a long time over which
president contributed most to victory in the Cold War,”
Kissinger said. “Few 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 to
its international role.”
Ford will be buried after another memorial service in the
hometown he so loved, Grand Rapids. And the difference in
tone was evident as soon as the presidential jet landed at
the Gerald R. Ford International Airport there.
In Washington, there had been classical music provided by
opera singer Denyce Graves, the U.S. Marine Band and the
cathedral choirs. In Grand Rapids, there was the University
of Michigan band playing the school's fight song, “The
Victors,” in honor of a Wolverine football star.
Carter, the Democrat who defeated Ford in 1976 and became
his friend, traveled to Grand Rapids with Ford's family.
Once again, there were renditions of “Hail to the Chief.”
But also, more poignantly, there was a lone bagpiper who
performed a mournful version of “Amazing Grace” as the
military honor guard slowly moved the casket into Ford's