(by Joseph Curl, WashingtonTimes.com) – The humble yet extraordinary life of Gerald R. Ford was heralded yesterday in a solemn and sometimes humorous service at the National Cathedral that brought together four presidents, dozens of Cabinet secretaries and lawmakers and some of the former president’s friendly foes members of the Washington press corps.
With 3,000 mourners packed into the massive church, and strains of “Fanfare for the Common Man” still wafting in the air, eight U.S. service members carried a flag-draped casket down the long aisle, their crisp steps echoing in the silent nave. Betty Ford, 88, and her children, along with Ford grandchildren and great-grandchildren, looked on as the body of Mr. Ford, who died Dec. 26 at 93, passed by.
Throughout the 90-minute service, speakers praised the humility and constancy of the former president, who once said his lifelong ambition was to become speaker of the House, not president.
“When he thought that the nation needed to put Watergate behind us, he made the tough and decent decision to pardon President Nixon, even though that decision probably cost him the presidential election,” President Bush said in his eulogy.
“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.”
Other speakers recalled Mr. Ford’s “sincerity, serenity and integrity,” as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger put it, but each returned to the theme that the humble Midwesterner nearly single-handedly saved the presidency by pardoning Mr. Nixon a month after he took office to end what he called “our national nightmare.”
Former President George Bush said that just the swearing-in of Mr. Ford as president “instantly restored the honor of the Oval Office and helped America begin to turn the page on one of our saddest chapters.”
“Jerry Ford’s decency was the ideal remedy for the deception of Watergate. For this and for so much more, his presidency will be remembered as a time of healing in our land,” the elder Mr. Bush said.
In his eulogy, Mr. Kissinger, who served under Mr. Ford, countered the notion that the man who held the office for just 29 months served only as a caretaker president with no real achievements in office. Mr. Kissinger said Mr. Ford quelled violence in Cyprus and Lebanon, presided stoically over the end of the Vietnam War and played a key role in the Cold War that ended 15 years after his presidency.
“Historians will debate for a long time over which president contributed most to victory in the Cold War. 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 in its international role,” Mr. Kissinger said.
Mrs. Ford, who was married to the former president for 58 years, kept her eyes closed through most of the service, which included biblical readings, performances by the Armed Forces Chorus and the U.S. Marine Orchestra, and a homily by the Rev. Robert Certain, the rector at the Fords’ California parish.
Former Presidents Jimmy Carter, who defeated Mr. Ford in the 1976 election, and Bill Clinton did not speak at the funeral. But former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw was asked last year by Mr. Ford to deliver a eulogy. The newsman said the White House changed the day Mr. Nixon left.
“In Gerald Ford, the man he was in public, he was also that man in private. Gerald Ford brought to the political arena no demons, no hidden agenda, no hit list or acts of vengeance,” Mr. Brokaw said. “We could be adversaries, but we were never his enemy, and that was a welcomed change in status from his predecessor’s time.”
In the crowd, reporter Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, whose coverage of the Watergate scandal helped bring down Mr. Nixon’s presidency, nodded as, nearby, Sam Donaldson, former White House correspondent for ABC News, looked on.
In a moment of levity, Mr. Brokaw noted that Mr. Ford had the unfortunate fate to be president in the 1970s, when “we were all trapped in what passed for style with lapels out to here, white belts, plaid jackets.”
“The rest of us have been able to destroy most of the evidence of our fashion meltdown, but presidents are not so lucky. Some of those jackets I think that they’re eligible for a presidential pardon, or at least a digital touch-up,” he said to laughter.
The elder Mr. Bush, 82, also broke up the crowd when he observed that Mr. Ford, a college football standout and avid sportsman, was parodied as a stumbling buffoon, especially by “Saturday Night Live” star Chevy Chase.
“On the lighter side, Jerry and I shared a common love of golf and also a reputation for suspect play before large crowds. ‘I know I’m playing better golf,’ President Ford once reported to friends, ‘because I’m hitting fewer spectators,'” he said.
Among the attendees at yesterday’s service were former Secretaries of State Colin L. Powell and James A. Baker III, former Vice President Al Gore, Supreme Court Justices John G. Roberts Jr. and Clarence Thomas, Nancy Reagan who mourned her husband, Ronald, at the cathedral in 2004 and former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. Vice President Dick Cheney, who was Mr. Ford’s chief of staff, was one of the honorary pallbearers and, at the end of the ceremony, walked alone behind the casket as the service members carried it out of the cathedral.
Former Defense Secretary and Ford Chief of Staff Donald H. Rumsfeld and Bob Dole, Mr. Ford’s 1976 running mate, also were in attendance.
Mr. Ford was the only former Eagle Scout to become president. Decorated Eagle Scouts served as ushers at the funeral.
The cathedral bells that had tolled 38 times as the 38th president’s cortege arrived on a brisk day were silent as his hearse pulled away, en route to Andrews Air Force Base. Along the route, spectators stood by the road, some waving flags, others with their hands on their hearts, one woman holding a sign that said simply “Thank You.”
At the base, the casket was lifted aboard a presidential Boeing 747 amid the strains of “Going Home” and flown to Grand Rapids, Mich., Mr. Ford’s final resting place. The marching band from the University of Michigan his alma mater, where he played center on the football team that twice won national championships greeted the plane, which carried members of his family and others in the funeral party, including Mr. Carter and his wife, Rosalynn.
In Grand Rapids, which the Nebraska-born Mr. Ford adopted as his hometown and represented in Congress for a quarter century, Mr. Ford’s presidential museum was opening its doors for an 18-hour public viewing, stretching overnight, before his burial this afternoon.
Copyright 2007 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times. This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization. Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com
1. Answer the following questions about President Ford:
a) What was Gerald Ford’s lifelong ambition?
b) What state did Gerald Ford represent in Congress?
c) For approximately how many years did Gerald Ford serve as a U.S. Congressman?
d) Gerald Ford was the only president in U.S. history not elected as either President or Vice President. How did this occur?
e) How old was President Ford when he died?
f) Where will President Ford be buried?
(To learn more about President Ford, including his skill as an athlete, go to the biography page at the Gerald Ford Library and Museum website at www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov)
2. Name the 5 presidents who preceded President Ford and the 5 presidents who served after him. Also, list the years that each president served.
3. Read what people said about President Ford at his memorial service yesterday:
–President George W. Bush, para. 4-5
–Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State, para. 6, 9-10
–President George H.W. Bush, para. 7-8
What feeling do you get about President Ford’s character from the remarks made about him?
4. a) Define eulogy.
b) List the achievements of President Ford, as related by Henry Kissinger in his eulogy.
5. Ask a parent or grandparent the following questions:
–What was your overall impression of Gerald Ford as a president at the time?
–What was the overall mood of the country during the Nixon Watergate cover-up and resignation?
–How did you view President Ford’s pardon of President Nixon at the time?
–How do you view President Ford’s pardon of President Nixon today?
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