Ford ceremonies stress unassuming nature, service to U.S.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Gerald R. Ford came home Saturday one last time, where his former colleagues welcomed him at the open doors of the House he loved.
His remains were carried into the Capitol in silence, his coffin draped with the American flag he fought to protect while serving his country in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
And now, he lies in state in the rotunda, under the majestic dome he saw for the first time as a 17-year-old high school student from Michigan, unaware that he’d return to make his mark in history.
Ford, 93, who died Tuesday at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif., was remembered at state funeral ceremonies Saturday evening “as one of the few men in history who did not need great events to make him great,” House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert said.
“In the summer of 1974, America didn’t need a philosopher king or a warrior prince, an aloof aristocrat or a populist firebrand.
“We needed a healer. We needed a rock. We needed honesty and candor and courage. We needed Gerald Ford.
“In an era of moral confusion, Gerald Ford confidently lived the virtues of honesty, decency and steadfastness. His example of fairness and fair play, of dignity and grace, brought forth in us our better instincts,” Hastert said.
Vice President Dick Cheney, one of Ford’s official pall bearers and his former chief of staff, remembered the 38th president as an “unassuming man.”
“He aspired only to be the speaker of the House,” Cheney said, adding that the consensus among House colleagues Ford served with for 34 years was that he would have made a fine one.
Although they did not mention Richard Nixon’s name, Hastert and Cheney each praised Ford for his courage to make the difficult decision to pardon the disgraced president one month after Ford replaced Nixon in August 1974.
“He understood that there could be no healing without a pardon,” Cheney said, noting that the decision cost Ford the 1976 election for president to Jimmy Carter.
As a crowd of several thousand people stood in lines winding around the Capitol Complex, the ceremony began at 7:20 p.m. under strict security.
Ford’s wife, Betty, and children, Susan Ford Bates and Mike, Jack and Steve Ford, and his former House colleagues, congressional leaders, military officials, clergy and a number of official greeters and pallbearers were escorted into the rotunda by military guards. The crowd filled the rotunda.
In addition to Cheney, official pallbearers included former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft, the president’s brother Dick Ford and Sanford Weill, chairman emeritus of Citigroup, where Gerald Ford served as honorary director.
The Pentagon said former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld did not make the ceremony. Former U.S. Sen. Robert J. Dole, who had been Ford’s running mate in the 1976 election, took Rumsfeld’s place.
The solemnity of the ceremony was marred briefly when an official greeter, former U.S. Rep. William Broomfield, 84, a Michigan Republican, collapsed as the U.S. Navy Sea Chanters were singing the Navy text of the hymn, “Eternal Father Strong to Save.”
Immediately, U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, who is a physician, hurried to assist Broomfield, who was carried from the chamber several minutes later wearing an oxygen mask. When Frist returned to the ceremony a few minutes later, someone whispered to Frist, asking if Broomfield was all right, and Frist nodded yes and took his seat.
Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, president pro tempore of the Senate, noted that Ford was among only nine men in history who have been called upon to serve as president by succession and the only man to assume both the vice presidency and the presidency without being elected.
Stevens said Ford was called to lead a nation “shaken by disbelief, wracked by cynicism and paralyzed by doubt.”
“He said, ‘We must go forward now together.’ He was the man the hour required,” Stevens said.
The ceremony ended at 8:19 p.m., about an hour after it started. Ford’s family approached the casket, and the president’s widow kneeled and touched her hand to the flag for a moment before being escorted from the rotunda.
When the rotunda cleared of dignitaries, it was opened for public viewing that will continue today and Monday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
One of the first people in line, Alan Donnelley, 47, of Indian Head, Md., said he came out of respect.
“He was our president. I came to see Ronald Reagan, too. This was our commander-in-chief,” he said.
Eleanor Calahan, 69, came to see the man she remembered as a neighbor and a friend. She said Ford lived a block from her Alexandria, Va., home when he was in Congress and became the vice president.
“Every day, my kids would sit out on our front steps and wait for their dad to come home. They knew when they saw Congressman Ford’s limousine coming around the bend, he would roll down the window and wave to them. They looked to see his shiny car and his smile and wave.”
In his benediction, Dr. Barry C. Black, chaplain of the Senate, said that Ford showed that family and faith still matter.
“He showed that right living is a language that is clear to everyone.”