Ford’s State Funeral begins Friday

Gerald R. Ford’s state funeral will begin Friday in his beloved California, with the late president then to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol over the weekend, a family representative said Wednesday.

Giving the first details of funeral arrangements for the 38th president, Gregory D. Willard said events will last until Wednesday, when Ford will be interred in a hillside tomb near his presidential museum in his home state of Michigan.

Ceremonies begin Friday, with a private prayer service for the family at St. Margaret’s Church in Palm Desert, Calif., visitation by friends and a period of public repose.

On Saturday, Ford’s body will be flown to Washington in late afternoon, his hearse pausing at the World War II memorial in joint tribute to the wartime Navy reserve veteran and his comrades in uniform, Willard told a news conference in Palm Desert.

The state funeral will be conducted in the Capitol Rotunda that evening and after that, the public will be able to file in to pay last respects. Ford was expected to lie in state until Tuesday morning.

In a departure from tradition meant to highlight Ford’s long service in Congress, his body will also lie in repose outside the main door of the House and, later, outside the main doors of the Senate chamber.

“I know personally how much those two tributes themselves meant to President Ford,” Willard said.

The last major event in Washington will be Tuesday morning, with a funeral service at the National Cathedral. Ford’s remains will leave shortly after noon for a service and interment near his Grand Rapids, Mich., museum.

It will be only the nation’s third state funeral in more than 30 years.

The ceremonies form a tribute to a man who rose to the White House in the collapse of Richard Nixon’s presidency, and who served the longest term in the House of any president.

“The nation’s appreciation for the contributions that President Ford made throughout his long and well-lived life are more than we could ever have anticipated,” his wife, Betty, said in a statement thanking the multitudes who offered condolences after her husband died Tuesday at age 93.

“These kindnesses have made this difficult time more bearable.”

Ford is to become the 11th president to lie in state in the Rotunda.

One open question was how involved the funeral procession to the Capitol, often the most stirring of Washington’s rituals of mourning, would be for a man whose modest ways and brief presidency set him apart from those honored with elaborate parades.

Planners are guided by the wishes of the family and any instructions from the president himself on how elaborate the events will be, how much of it takes place in Washington and more.

Ex-presidents routinely are involved in their funeral planning with the Military District of Washington, which turned to the task quietly but with increasing urgency as Ford went through several bouts of ill health in recent years.

The nation has only witnessed two presidential state funerals in over three decades — those of Ronald Reagan in 2004 and Lyndon Johnson in 1973.

Nixon’s family, acting on his wishes, opted out of the Washington traditions when he died in 1994, his presidency shortened and forever tainted by the Watergate scandal.

What happens in Washington, particularly, unfolds according to guidelines that go back to the mid-1800s and have been shaped over time.

No longer are government buildings draped in black, as they were in the time of Abraham Lincoln and before.

But if a chosen ceremony requires mourners to be seated, for example, seating arrangements are detailed with a precision dictated by tradition. The presidential party is followed by chiefs of state, arranged alphabetically by the English spelling of their countries.

Royalty representing chiefs of state come next, and then heads of governments followed by other officials.

Two presidents are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Kennedy and William H. Taft. Reagan was buried on the hilltop grounds of his presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif., in a dramatic sunset ceremony capping a week of official public mourning.


On the Net:

Ford museum and library

The Architect of the Capitol

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press