Gerald Ford Returns Home For The Last Time

Armed forces body bearers move the remains of former President Gerald Ford to the hearse at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2007, in Grand Rapids, Mich. CBS

The body of former President Gerald R. Ford has been flown to Grand Rapids, Mich., where he grew up. Burial will be Wednesday on the grounds of the Ford Museum, where there has been a non-stop procession of condolence callers since last Tuesday.

Tuesday, the nation's 38th president was fondly eulogized for what he didn't have — pretensions, a scheming agenda, a great golf game — as much as for the small-town authenticity he brought to the presidency.

In keeping with Mr. Ford's wishes to keep his funeral simple, there was no horse-drawn caisson, no riderless horse, no procession but a motorcade, reports CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric.

The state funeral began with a service at Washington National Cathedral, then moved to Grand Rapids for Ford's final homecoming. The marching band from the University of Michigan, the school where he played football, greeted the White House jet carrying his casket, members of his family and others in the funeral party.

The service in Washington unfolded in the spirit of one of its musical selections — "Fanfare for the Common Man" — as powerful people celebrated the modesty and humility of a leader propelled to the presidency by the Watergate crisis that drove predecessor Richard Nixon from office.

"In President Ford, the world saw the best of America, and America found a man whose character and leadership would bring calm and healing to one of the most divisive moments in our nation's history," President Bush said in his eulogy.

Mr. Bush's father, the first President Bush, called Ford a "Norman Rockwell painting come to life" and pierced the solemnity of the occasion by cracking gentle jokes about Ford's reputation as an errant golfer. He said Ford "knew his golf game was getting better when he began hitting fewer spectators."

Ford's athletic prowess was remembered, too, in the capital and in Michigan.

"President Ford would surely have loved it when the University of Michigan marching band saluted him with a slow-tempo rendition of Michigan's fight song, 'Hail To The Victors,' a tune he always said he liked better than 'Hail to the Chief,'" reports CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante..

Ford had played center for the Wolverines in their undefeated, national championship seasons in 1932 and 1933 and turned down several pro football offers to go to law school at Yale instead.

In Grand Rapids, which the Nebraska native adopted as his hometown and represented in Congress for a quarter century, Mr. Ford's presidential museum opened its doors for a brief service and then an 18-hour public viewing, stretching overnight, before his burial Wednesday afternoon.

Former President Jimmy Carter, the Democrat who defeated Ford in 1976 and became his friend, not only attended the Washington service with the two other living ex-presidents, the elder Bush and Bill Clinton, but came to Grand Rapids on the plane with Ford's family and his remains.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, delivering one of the most emotional tributes of the day, spoke as if addressing Ford directly, in remarks at the museum. "You were an incredible human being," said Granholm, a Democrat. "You were a paradoxical gift of remarkable intellect and achievement wrapped in a plain brown wrapper."

Under towering arches of the cathedral in the morning, Henry Kissinger, Ford's secretary of state, paid tribute to his leadership in achieving nuclear arms control with the Soviets, pushing for the first political agreement between Israel and Egypt and helping to bring majority rule to southern Africa.

"In his understated way he did his duty as a leader, not as a performer playing to the gallery," Kissinger said. "Gerald Ford had the virtues of small-town America."

  • Michelle Singer

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