- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 27, 2006


The modern presidency operates as if by script, with carefully chosen crowds, painstakingly shaped words and backdrops picked for just the right effect.

As in life, so, too, in death.

The funeral of an ex-president follows rituals soaked in tradition and specified right down to the exact speed of a procession, 20 mph. That doesn’t mean one president’s funeral is like another’s — some can be far grander.

Funeral planners are guided by the wishes of the family and any instructions from the president himself on how elaborate the events will be, how much of it takes place in Washington and more.

Presidents are typically involved in their own funeral planning, said Barbara Owens, state funeral planner for public affairs for the Joint Task Force, National Capital Region. She said, “They can choose to have a simple funeral; they can choose to have a full honor funeral. It simply is up to the family.”

Former President Gerald R. Ford, who died Tuesday, will have a private ceremony in Palm Desert, Calif., and the public will have a brief opportunity to pay respects before his body is flown to Washington for a public mourning period in the Capitol Rotunda expected to begin this weekend.

What happens in Washington, particularly, unfolds according to guidelines that date back to the mid-1800s and have been shaped over time.

If a chosen ceremony requires mourners to be seated, for example, seating arrangements are detailed with precision. The presidential party is followed by chiefs of state, arranged alphabetically by the English spellings of their countries. Royalty representing chiefs of state come next, and then heads of governments followed by other officials.

Former President Ronald Reagan’s state funeral was the first of its kind in more than 30 years, since Lyndon B. Johnson died in 1973. The president, former presidents and a president-elect are all entitled to a state funeral, but the family decides whether they get one, or just how involved it will be.

Former President Richard M. Nixon’s family, acting on his wishes, opted out of the capital traditions when he died in 1994, his presidency shortened and forever tainted by Watergate.

The rules and ceremonies are based on previous practices.

President Kennedy’s funeral services were modeled after those of Abraham Lincoln, at the request of the new widow, Jacqueline, in her first public statement after the assassination. Historians poured over musty documents by flashlight in the middle of the night as the stunned country waited for a plan — the Library of Congress’ automatic lights could not be rigged to come on after hours.

Mr. Reagan was the 10th president to lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda.

Like the great majority of presidents, Mr. Ford served in Congress, and a public viewing is expected in the Rotunda after President Bush and other dignitaries pay their respects there. Mr. Reagan and former President Jimmy Carter did not serve in Congress.

Eight presidents have had funeral processions down Pennsylvania Avenue. Only sitting presidents and their immediate families have ever lain in the White House for viewing.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide