Ford state funeral to begin Friday
WASHINGTON (AP) – Gerald R. Ford will be mourned in the rare and solemn spectacle of a state funeral crafted to honor his reverence for Congress, the institution that launched him to the presidency.
Ceremonies begin Friday in a California church, and end five days later with Ford’s entombment on a hillside near his Grand Rapids, Mich., presidential museum.
In between, according to funeral details announced Wednesday, Ford’s body will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, offering both dignitaries and the public a chance to pay final respects to the former Michigan congressman who rose to the White House in the collapse of Richard Nixon’s presidency.
And in a departure from tradition meant to highlight his long congressional service, Ford’s remains will also lie in repose outside the doors of both the House and the Senate for short periods.
“I know personally how much those two tributes themselves meant to President Ford,” said family representative Gregory D. Willard, who detailed arrangements in a news conference in Palm Desert, Calif.
The 38th president died Tuesday at age 93. He had been involved in his own funeral planning, as former presidents typically are.
Events begin at St. Margaret’s Church in Palm Desert, which Ford and his wife, Betty, frequently attended. A family prayer service will be followed by 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.
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 closed casket.
The last major event in Washington will be Tuesday morning, with a funeral service at the National Cathedral before Ford’s interment the next day in Michigan.
The nation has witnessed just 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.
“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,” Betty Ford said in a statement thanking the multitudes who offered condolences.
“These kindnesses have made this difficult time more bearable.”
Ford is to become the 11th president to lie in state in the Rotunda.
He served his Michigan district in the House for 25 years, rising to the vice presidency when scandal drove Spiro Agnew from office and then to the presidency when Watergate consumed Nixon.
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.
The Military District of Washington turned to the task quietly but with increasing urgency as Ford went through several bouts of ill health in recent years.
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.
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