Notebook: Michigan Homecoming

CBS News correspondent Bill Plante covered the ceremonies held for Gerald Ford in Grand Rapids, Mich., where the former president grew up and began his political career more than half a century ago.
Gerald Ford is home. After the solemn pageantry of a state funeral, Grand Rapids, Mich., is paying tribute Tuesday night to the man who always claimed this place and its values — whether he was living in the White House, the California desert or Aspen — as his.

The matter-of-fact straightforwardness that is typical of the Midwest is buttressed here by the solid values of the Dutch protestants who settled Western Michigan.

Ford represented this area in Congress for 25 years — and, by his own account, would have been just as happy continuing in that job.

But when fate and events intervened, all of us who reported from Washington were struck by the unassuming nature of the new president — particularly in contrast to the guarded and awkward Richard Nixon.

He famously toasted his own English muffin on his first day in the White House, and joked easily with staff and reporters alike.

President Ford often said that he preferred the University of Michigan fight song, "Hail To The Victors," to the presidential "Hail To The Chief." Just back from the Rose Bowl, the Michigan marching band played a slow-tempo version Tuesday as Ford's body moved from the presidential aircraft, across the tarmac of the Gerald R. Ford airport and to the waiting hearse.

He was carried into his presidential museum to the strains of "Amazing Grace" on bagpipes.

And there, after a brief ceremony, the people of Michigan streamed past the casket, paying their respects. The doors were to remain open through the night until midmorning Wednesday.

Then a funeral service will be held for family and friends at Grand Rapids' Grace Episcopal church. Former President Jimmy Carter, who says that he and President Ford had an agreement that the survivor would speak at the other's funeral, will give one eulogy; Donald Rumsfeld, who was both chief of staff and defense secretary to President Ford, will give another.

And then, at last, Gerald Ford will be laid to rest, just outside his museum in the side of a small hill.


  • Tricia McDermott

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