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National Cathedral Service Honors Ford
Associated Press | January 02, 2007WASHINGTON - The United States remembered Gerald R. Ford, its 38th president, on Tuesday for what he didn't have - pretensions, a scheming agenda, a great golf game - as much as for the small-town authenticity he brought to the presidency.
On the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base, against the hulking backdrop of the White House jet, the Air Force Band played the slow strains of "Going Home" as the 38th president went home: Grand Rapids, Michigan, where his final resting place awaits on a hillside.
In Grand Rapids, which the Nebraska native adopted as his hometown and represented in Congress for a quarter-century, his museum prepared to receive his remains and open its doors for an 18-hour public visitation, stretching overnight, before his interment Wednesday afternoon.
An elaborate service at the Washington National Cathedral unfolded in the spirit of one of its musical selections - "Fanfare for the Common Man" - as powerful people celebrated the modesty and humility of a leader propelled to the presidency by the Watergate crisis that drove his predecessor from office.
"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 George W. Bush said in his eulogy.
The elder President George H.W. Bush, opening the eulogies, pierced the solemnity of the occasion by cracking gentle jokes about Ford's reputation as an errant golfer. He said Ford knew his golf game was getting better when he began hitting fewer spectators.
Former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Dick Cheney joined in the laughter.
Henry Kissinger, Ford's secretary of state, paid tribute to Ford's leadership in achieving nuclear arms control with the Soviets, in the first political agreement between Israel and Egypt and in helping to bring majority rule to southern Africa, among other achievements often overlooked in the modest man.
"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."
Another eulogist, NBC television newsman Tom 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.
In his homily, Episcopalian minister Robert G. Certain touched on the fractious debate in the church over its growing acceptance of homosexual relationships, and said Ford did not think the issue should be splitting Episcopalians. He was Ford's pastor at St. Margaret's Church in Palm Desert, California.
"He asked me if we would face schism after we discussed the various issues we would consider, particularly concerns about human sexuality and the leadership of women," Certain said. "He said that he did not think they should be divisive for anyone who lived by the great commandments and the great commission to love God and to love neighbor.
The Episcopal Church has been under pressure from traditionalists for its 2003 consecration of the first openly gay bishop. Several prominent Virginia parishes have recently broken away from the church in protest.
The crisp steps of the military pallbearers echoed through the cavernous space as Ford's remains came to a church he had visited at least seven times as vice president, president or ex-president.
On a national day of mourning that closed most of the government as well as financial markets, the cortege brought his casket to the cathedral in blustery winds that blew off the hats of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, and members of the honor guard outside the service.
White-gloved police officers lined the route passing the White House to the cathedral; light, subdued crowds watched the cortege.
Inside, more than 3,000 people, including the three living ex-presidents and foreign dignitaries, mourned the man who was charged with restoring trust in government after Richard Nixon's downfall. They remembered an unassuming leader who was content with his congressional career until history called him to higher office.
"When President Nixon needed to replace a vice president who had resigned in scandal, he naturally turned to a man whose name was a synonym for integrity," Bush said. "And eight months later, when he was elevated to the presidency, it was because America needed him, not because he needed the office."
He escorted Ford's widow, Betty, down and the aisle of the great stone cathedral, which stretches nearly the length of two football fields and has soaring towers, 215 stained glass windows and an organ with 10,650 pipes.
Jimmy Carter, who defeated Ford in 1976, engaged Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in an animated conversation while waiting for the funeral party. Rice also chatted with Chelsea Clinton, daughter of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and at one point the three ex-presidents - Carter, the elder Bush and Clinton - shook hands.
Among others at the cathedral: Nancy Reagan, who mourned her husband Ronald there in 2004; former Secretary of State Colin Powell; and former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a presidential prospect for 2008.
Thousands of average Americans filed into the Capitol Rotunda over two days and a night to pay final respects to Ford.
Afterward, Ford's remains briefly lay in repose outside the Senate chamber in tribute to his tenure as Senate president when he served as Nixon's vice president. Similarly, his casket had rested outside the chamber of the House of Representatives upon its arrival Saturday in remembrance of his quarter century as a Michigan congressman.
Ford died at 93 on Dec. 26 at his home in Rancho Mirage, California.
The national funeral service capped Washington's portion of a state funeral that concludes with a final public visitation in Grand Rapids, a private service, and interment on a hillside overlooking his museum.
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 ears.
A month after taking office, Ford pardoned Nixon for any Watergate crimes he might have committed. Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment after he was implicated in a White House coverup of a burglary at Democratic Party national headquarters in the Watergate apartment complex.
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