Warm Eulogies On a Windy Winter's Day

Gerald Ford's body was taken from the Capitol yesterday morning. Several hundred bundled-up spectators gathered there to see him off.
Gerald Ford's body was taken from the Capitol yesterday morning. Several hundred bundled-up spectators gathered there to see him off. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)

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By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 3, 2007

It was a stiff but egalitarian wind that battered mourners who gathered yesterday to say goodbye to former president Gerald R. Ford.

Sweeping off the hilltop towers of the Washington National Cathedral, it blew against old and young, fit and frail, Democrats and Republicans. It pummeled senators, Cabinet secretaries, mayors, political candidates, foreign dignitaries, diplomats, police officers, official greeters and bystanders.

Everyone, it seemed, but the late president's widow, Betty, 88, who appeared thin and weary but unruffled during the 90-minute celebration of the president's life.

Gusts of 30 mph blew hats off the military guard, mussed the hair of the honorary pallbearers and tugged at the flag on the president's coffin.

It was even mentioned -- "O wind of heaven" -- in one of the hymns sung by the Armed Forces Chorus.

Under a clear blue sky, on the cold January morning, a common exchange at the Ford farewell went:

"How are you?"

"Cold."

But the wind did not chill the accolades that continued for the nation's 38th president, who was raised in Michigan and died Dec. 26 in California at 93.

Inside and outside the cathedral on Wisconsin Avenue NW, people spoke warmly yesterday of the man one eulogist called "the gentleman from Grand Rapids."

Former secretary of state Colin Powell, clad in a coat and tie, seemed oblivious to the weather as he strode toward the cathedral with his wife, Alma.

"I watched the country go through the terrible period from '68 to '74 with the death of Bobby Kennedy and the death of Martin Luther King and then the resignation of the president . . . the counterculture, drugs, Vietnam, racial difficulties," he said. "People thought we were down and out. And then suddenly along came this simple guy from the Midwest."


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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