This week’s farewell to Betty Ford will include plenty of touches she would have liked — because she planned it herself.
They don’t talk about it much, but it’s common practice for former presidents and first ladies to design their own funeral programs. Ford, who died Friday at age 93, will have two: a memorial Tuesday in California attended by Michelle Obama, and a funeral Thursday in Michigan, where she’ll be buried next to her husband. (**Updated Tuesday evening: First ladies past and present honor Betty Ford at funeral **)
In 2006, Cokie Roberts got a call from Ford’s daughter Susan: her mom wanted Roberts to deliver a eulogy, whenever that time came, at her funeral.
“Wow — that’s an incredible honor,” the veteran D.C. journalist replied. Then, she recalls, Susan gave Roberts her assignment: “Mother wants you to talk about the way things used to be.”
“A time in Washington when Democrats and Republicans used to be friends, when their families were all friends,” Roberts told us Monday. “The main message she wanted me to say is when you’re friends, government works. It’s like she planned it for this week.”
Roberts has been friends with the Fords for decades. Her father, Hale Boggs, was House majority leader when Gerald Ford was minority leader. Her mother, Lindy, teamed with Betty on various causes. The familes went to school and church together.
“They were all friends with each other,” Roberts said. When her father disappeared after an Alaska plane crash in 1972, the Fords were “devastated. . . they were so supportive.”
Roberts was one of three speakers chosen for Tuesday’s memorial. Ford also asked her successor Rosalynn Carter, as well as Geoffrey Mason of the Betty Ford Center. Ford’s body will travel to Michigan for the interment Thursday at the Ford Museum in Grand Rapids. Lynne Cheney (her husband served as President Ford’s White House chief of staff) and biographer Richard Norton Smith will give eulogies at the funeral.
All of Ford’s family — four children, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren — are expected to attend the services, but none has been announced as speakers.