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Archive for Sunday, December 31, 2006

Watergate aftermath defines remembrance of Ford

December 31, 2006

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— Gerald R. Ford's funeral procession swept by the White House without a pause, mark of a man who preferred to be remembered for his quarter century in the House and his World War II service in the Navy. Yet it was the office he didn't seek, the presidency, that defined the nation's remembrance of him Saturday night.

Ford's decision to pardon Richard Nixon for any Watergate crimes, so divisive at the time that it probably cost him the 1976 election, was dealt with squarely in his funeral services by his old chief of staff, Vice President Dick Cheney, and others, too.

"It was this man, Gerald R. Ford, who led our republic safely though a crisis that could have turned to catastrophe," said Cheney, speaking in the Capitol Rotunda where the body of the 38th president rested. "Gerald Ford was almost alone in understanding that there can be no healing without pardon."

Following a route shaped by Ford and his family - retired presidents are involved in their funeral planning - the nighttime motorcade made a short, poignant stop at the World War II memorial, where the arch commemorating the Pacific theater was bathed in light, in honor of Ford's aircraft carrier service in the Pacific war.

Then it snaked past the White House to the steps of the Capitol, where cannon thundered and dignitaries crowded the Rotunda to celebrate the life of the sailor, congressman and president. The thread of most eulogies: Watergate.

"In our nation's darkest hour, Gerald Ford lived his finest moment," Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, of Alaska, told the Rotunda service. "He was the man the hour required."

Former first lady Betty Ford, accompanied by her son Michael, prays by the casket of her husband, former President Gerald R. Ford during state funeral services Saturday on Capitol Hill in Washington. Behind are the Fords' children, from left, Steven Ford, Susan Ford and Jack Ford.

Former first lady Betty Ford, accompanied by her son Michael, prays by the casket of her husband, former President Gerald R. Ford during state funeral services Saturday on Capitol Hill in Washington. Behind are the Fords' children, from left, Steven Ford, Susan Ford and Jack Ford.

Said House Speaker Dennis Hastert: "In 1974, America didn't need a philosopher-king or a warrior-prince. We needed a healer, we needed a rock, we needed honesty and candor and courage. We needed Gerald Ford."

Former first lady Betty Ford sat stoically in the line of gleaming limousines, clutching a tissue and dabbing her face on occasion, then walked slowly at the Capitol in the arm of her military escort, soon followed by the casket bearing her husband of 58 years.

After the ceremony, she walked to the casket with the aid of her son Michael and rested her clasped hands briefly on top of it.

The pageantry was muted, as Ford wanted, but the ritual unfolded with regal touches and according to exacting traditions dating back to the mid-1800s.

In one departure from tradition, pallbearers placed his casket outside the House chamber before it was taken to the Rotunda to lie in state. That honored Ford's years of service in the House as a congressman from Michigan and minority leader.

Similarly, Ford's body will rest briefly outside the Senate chamber on Tuesday, commemorating his service as vice president, which also made him Senate president.

Ford died Tuesday at age 93. He became president when Nixon resigned in August 1974 and was defeated by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election.

Six days of national mourning began Friday with military honors and a simple family prayer service at St. Margaret's, where the Ford family has worshipped for many years.

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