Ford's State Funeral Begins Friday

The Associated Press
Wednesday, December 27, 2006; 7:51 PM

WASHINGTON -- 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.

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