Washington says goodbye to former President

Ordinary Americans joined President Bush and other dignitaries to pay final respects to Gerald R. Ford as his flag-draped casket rested under the Capitol dome, before a last round of funeral services and burial near his old family home in Michigan.

The remains were to be removed from the Rotunda on Tuesday, to lie in repose briefly outside the Senate before leaving the Capitol where Ford served as a congressman for 25 years.

A bell at the Washington National Cathedral was to toll 38 times for the 38th president as the cortege moved through Washington streets for the funeral service at the stone church that stretches nearly the length of two football fields. The much-visited Washington religious landmark has soaring towers, 215 stained glass windows and a great organ with 10,650 pipes.

Funeral services were held in the cathedral for former presidents Eisenhower in 1969 and Reagan in 2004, and ex-President Wilson is buried there.

At the service, Ford was to receive tributes from Bush, who designated Tuesday as a national day of mourning, along with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the first President Bush and NBC newsman Tom Brokaw.

Two of Ford’s children were to participate in the service, with Jack Ford reading from the Prophet Isaiah and Susan Ford Bales reading from the Book of James.

On Monday under gray, rainy skies, the president and first lady Laura Bush, along with former presidents Clinton and Bush and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, were among thousands of Americans who viewed the casket as it lay in state at the Capitol.

Former first lady Betty Ford sat with members of the Ford family, who held hands as they watched the military honor guard and the casket. Mrs. Ford’s son Steven helped her up when she walked over to the casket and touched it.

Bush bowed his head at the casket. He and his wife stayed at the Capitol only a few minutes in midafternoon, and then immediately afterward went to Blair House, across the street from the White House, to visit Mrs. Ford before she went to the Rotunda.

After Ford died at 93 last Tuesday at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Bush called him a “true gentleman” and recounted how Ford stepped into the Oval Office after President Nixon resigned in disgrace after the Watergate scandal.

Following Tuesday’s funeral service in Washington, Ford’s remains were to be flown to Grand Rapids, Mich., where he grew up, for a brief private service at his presidential museum and public viewing overnight. A private funeral service was to take place at Grace Episcopal Church in East Grand Rapids on Wednesday, followed by a private burial at the museum.

Inside the Rotunda on Monday, Ford’s daughter and one of his sons handed remembrance cards to some of the visitors.

The blue cards bore the presidential, vice presidential and House seals and had a biography of Ford on one side. On the other was a photograph of the former president in the Oval Office, his head bowed.

The message on the card read: “The family of Gerald R. Ford deeply appreciates your prayers and many kindnesses as together we celebrate and honor the life of a devoted husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather and the 38th president of the United States.”

Two of the former president’s grandchildren, Heather Vance and Tyne Vance Berlanga, embraced after they were overcome with emotion after they approached the casket.

Among the visitors Monday was Edna Reeves, 61, of Oxon Hill, Md., who said that, to her, Ford represented integrity.

“At a time that the nation was under a lot of pressure, a lot of fire, he stood up for the things that he thought was right at the time. And much blessings to him for knowing compassion enough to pardon President Nixon. I think that was beautiful. You see he didn’t think of himself, he thought about the nation.”

Ford was appointed vice president by Nixon to replace Spiro Agnew, who resigned in a bribery scandal stemming from his days as Maryland governor. After Nixon resigned, Ford assumed the presidency for 2 1/2 years.

A month after taking office, Ford pardoned Nixon for any Watergate crimes he might have committed, a move that political analysts say was perhaps the main reason he lost the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press