As he planned his own funeral, former President Gerald Ford made clear that he didn't want to overdo the pomp and circumstance.
"One thing he was adamant about was that there was to be no caisson through the streets of Washington," said Richard Norton Smith, a presidential historian and close friend of Ford's who will speak tonight in Lawrence. "He was absolute in his opinion. It tells you something about a man who had a total lack of pretense."
Smith, who served as the first director of the Dole Institute of Politics on the Kansas University campus, will return to the institute tonight for a 7:30 p.m. discussion about Ford's presidency. The event, which will kick off a four-week "Presidential Lecture Series," is free and open to the public.
Smith helped make arrangements for Ford's funeral while the former president was still living, and he delivered the eulogy at Ford's funeral Jan. 3 in Grand Rapids, Mich. He said giving the eulogy was a "very personal" and difficult experience.
"It was also obviously an enormous honor, and I think I'll let it go at that for now," he said.
Ford, who pardoned Richard Nixon, was widely recalled after his death as a leader who helped the country heal from the Watergate and Vietnam era. Smith said that Ford's death may have struck a chord with the public in part because of today's political climate.
"I think people who are going through this period of polarization and finger-pointing and stridency ... many of them were too young to remember the Ford presidency," Smith said. "They saw this man from Grand Rapids, this unlikely healer, and they liked what they saw."
An interview with Richard Norton Smith, the first director of the Dole Institute of Politics.
Tonight's event is not a speech, but a discussion in which the audience will have a chance to ask questions. Bill Lacy, the present director of the Dole Institute, will serve as a moderator.
"He and I will sit there and talk," Lacy said. "My goal is ... to pull the highlights out of him."
In other Dole Institute news, the cable-news network C-SPAN plans to cover an upcoming panel discussion Tuesday at the institute that will feature political bloggers. The event, titled "Blog to the Chief," is the second of the institute's Presidential Lecture Series. It will examine the likely impact of political blogging on the 2008 presidential election.