- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2006

President Bush and other lawmakers paid their respects to Gerald R. Ford yesterday, as plans were completed for several days of funeral services and memorials, which will include the late president’s body lying in state at the U.S. Capitol on Sunday and Monday.

Gregory Willard, a Ford family representative, told reporters yesterday that services will begin tomorrow in California and last until Wednesday, when Mr. Ford will be interred in a hillside tomb near his presidential museum in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Speaking from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Mr. Bush praised the former president for restoring integrity to the White House after the scandal-forced resignations of President Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew.

“With his quiet integrity, common sense and kind instincts, President Ford helped heal our land and restore public confidence in the presidency,” Mr. Bush said. “The American people will always admire Gerald Ford’s devotion to duty, his personal character and the honorable conduct of his administration. We mourn the loss of such a leader, and our 38th president will always have a special place in our nation’s memory.”

The curators of Mr. Ford’s presidential museum opened their lobby for 24 hours a day starting yesterday and said the lobby will remain open until further notice.

Mr. Willard said the funeral ceremonies begin tomorrow, with a private prayer service for the family at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, Calif., which Mr. Ford and his wife, Betty, had attended. On Saturday, the 38th president’s body will be flown to Washington for a state funeral in the Capitol Rotunda that evening. On its way to the Capitol, the hearse will pause at the World War II Memorial, in tribute to the Navy veteran’s service.

The public will be able to file into the Capitol to pay last respects to Mr. Ford from the conclusion of the funeral until the coffin leaves for a funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral on Tuesday morning. His remains will leave Washington for the final service and interment in Michigan, the former president’s home state.

The tributes poured in yesterday. Vice President Dick Cheney, who served as Mr. Ford’s chief of staff, praised his former boss in a statement, calling him a “dear friend and mentor.”

“Throughout his career — as a naval officer, congressman, vice president and president — Gerald Ford embodied the best values of a great generation: decency, integrity and devotion to duty,” Mr. Cheney said.

Mr. Ford had close ties to the Bush administration. Mr. Bush’s father, former President George Bush, served in the Ford administration as a diplomat and CIA director. And just-departed Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld also served Mr. Ford as chief of staff.

Mr. Rumsfeld yesterday called his former boss “a man of great decency and towering integrity.” The elder Mr. Bush called Mr. Ford “one of the most decent and capable men I ever met.”

Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who was Mr. Ford’s vice-presidential running mate in 1976, said Mr. Ford “was a friend to everyone who met him” and “had no enemies.”

Praise for Mr. Ford was not limited to his former political allies. Former President Jimmy Carter, who defeated Mr. Ford in the 1976 presidential election, also had kind words for his one-time opponent.

“An outstanding statesman, he wisely chose the path of healing during a deeply divisive time in our nation’s history,” Mr. Carter said. “He frequently rose above politics by emphasizing the need for bipartisanship and seeking common ground on issues critical to our nation.”

Former President Bill Clinton and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton issued a joint statement, saying that Mr. Ford “to his great credit … was the same hard-working, down-to-earth person the day he left the White House as he was when he first entered Congress.”

Mr. Bush ordered all flags at federal buildings, including Congress, the White House, and U.S. diplomatic missions and military bases abroad, to be flown at half-staff for the next 30 days, according to the U.S. Flag Code guidelines for a former president’s death. Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, Michigan Democrat, followed suit for her state, ordering all flags on state office buildings to be flown at half-staff through Jan. 25.

“I remember in his inaugural speech he said, ‘You have not elected me as your president by your ballots, and so I ask you to confirm me as your president with your prayers,’ ” said the Rev. Billy Graham. “God certainly answered those prayers. President Ford was the great healer, and brought us together. We owe a great debt to him for how he put principle over politics at a crucial time in the life of our nation.”

Historians have viewed Mr. Ford’s legacy as focusing on the stability he provided after Mr. Nixon’s resignation. However, polls show that his standing has continued to improve with the American public over the years.

In March 1975, his popularity sank to 37 percent, the lowest point of his presidency. The drop in his poll numbers is attributed to his decision to pardon Mr. Nixon the September before and the continued fallout from the Vietnam War.

In September 1974, just 33 percent of respondents told Time magazine that they agreed with the pardon. Yet by 1980, 55 percent of respondents said they had a favorable opinion of Mr. Ford in a CBS News/New York Times poll.

Those positive sentiments appear to have solidified over time. According to a June 2006 Gallup poll, 60 percent of Americans said they approve of the job Mr. Ford did as president, with only 26 percent registering disapproval.

“For most, the legacy of Gerald Ford will be the unity he brought to the nation after the divisive and bitter experiences of Watergate,” presidential historian Doug Wead said yesterday on the Web site NewsMax.com. “In those days, Republican and Democrat, journalist and pundit could agree that the new president was honest and decent and he would make every effort to be fair. It was a time for healing.”

Even Chevy Chase, the comedian whose “Saturday Night Live” parodies cemented the image of Mr. Ford as a klutz, said yesterday that he had come to have a high opinion of the former president, who was actually a star athlete in college and later a football and boxing coach.

After the show’s run, “we became friends and he was a very, very sweet man,” Mr. Chase told Reuters news agency.

“He took my wife and I on a whole lovely trip through Grand Rapids to show us where he had been as a child. We kept in touch, and he was just a terrific guy.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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