- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 2, 2007

President Bush and first lady Laura Bush paid their respects to Gerald R. Ford yesterday, the final day the former president’s body lay in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

Mr. and Mrs. Bush stood before Mr. Ford’s closed flag-draped casket with their heads bowed in a brief but solemn tribute yesterday afternoon after returning to Washington from their ranch in Texas.

Afterward, the Bush motorcade took the president to Blair House, across the street from the White House, where the Bushes visited former first lady Betty Ford for a half hour and then walked back to the Executive Mansion.

Mr. and Mrs. Bush joined thousands of mourners who braved steady rainfall and frigid temperatures yesterday to say a final goodbye to the 38th president of the United States.

“I wanted my children to see and be part of history,” said Trisha Mellott, who drove six hours from Canfield, Ohio, with her 11-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter to see Mr. Ford’s casket. “We are proud to be Americans, so I wanted them to experience this.”

Mr. Ford’s body had been lying in state since Saturday, four days after he died at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif., at 93.

State funeral services for Mr. Ford, the country’s only unelected president, who took office in 1974 in the aftermath of Richard M. Nixon’s Watergate scandal, will be held today at the Washington National Cathedral.

Mr. Bush will deliver the funeral eulogy. Mr. Ford will be buried tomorrow near his presidential museum in Grand Rapids, Mich.

As light rain fell throughout yesterday morning, thousands lined up outside the Capitol clad in rainwear and toting umbrellas to pay respects to a president that many remembered as a kind and genuine person.

“It’s an experience of a lifetime,” said Lynn Yowaiski, 59, of Lexington Park, Md., who came with her husband and best friend to the public viewing. “Plus, I liked him. I always felt like he was telling the truth.”

Carol Hooker, a teacher from Landover Hills, said she felt a personal connection with the former president after sending him a tongue-in-cheek letter years ago and finding out from a White House staffer that Mr. Ford and his Cabinet got a much-needed laugh from the correspondence.

Mrs. Hooker, 54, said she admired Mr. Ford so much that her family bought a Ford Fairmont station wagon and named it Gerald “Our” Ford.

“He was somebody that was genuinely kind,” said Mrs. Hooker, standing in line without an umbrella and with rain clouding her glasses.

Inside the Rotunda, Mr. Ford’s daughter, Susan Ford Bales, and son Michael Gerald Ford stood near the casket greeting mourners and handing remembrance cards to some of the visitors.

The blue cards had the presidential, vice presidential and House of Representatives seals and Mr. Ford’s biography on one side.

On the other was a photograph of the former president in the Oval Office, his head bowed.

The message on the card read “The family of Gerald R. Ford deeply appreciates your prayers and many kindnesses as together we celebrate and honor the life of a devoted husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather and the 38th president of the United States.”

Michael Ford shook 8-year-old Christopher Witkowski’s hand and gave him one of the cards.

“My father would have wanted you to have this,” he told Christopher, of Alexandria.

Mr. Bush declared today a National Day of Mourning to honor Mr. Ford.

Federal and D.C. government offices will be closed today.

The funeral procession is scheduled to begin at 9:15 a.m. at the Capitol and end at 10 a.m. at the Washington National Cathedral.

Mr. Ford’s remains then will be taken to Andrews Air Force Base in a procession scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. Street closures for the processions will begin at 7 a.m., and some parking restrictions will be in effect, too.

D.C. officials said they are ready for the added stress the service and closures could place on the city.

Barbara Childs-Pair, the head of the District’s Emergency Management Agency, said she has “great working relationships” with federal agencies such as the U.S. Capitol Police and the U.S. Secret Service, which will coordinate with local officials today.

“We have been actually planning for a state funeral for the last six months,” she said. “We’ve done a template, so all of the planning efforts, all of the players have been involved over several months.”

Today also will mark the first day on the job for the new D.C. police chief and the new D.C. fire chief.

Incoming Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier ran the Metropolitan Police Department’s Homeland Security Division and before that spent four years directing its Special Operations Division.

“Remember, the agency heads are changing, but the folks who really do the planning work, the logistical work, are still there,” Mrs. Childs-Pair said. “So it’s like clockwork at this point. We have a template from [the 2004 funeral of President] Reagan, lessons learned.”

Interim Fire Chief Brian K. Lee also is familiar with large-scale events. He was named to the department’s top job last week after spending six months as a battalion chief in the fire department’s Special Operations Division.

“We’re no strangers to state funerals. We’re no strangers to national protests. We’re no strangers to big events. We do that very well,” Chief Lee said. “Between the fire/EMS coordinated with the police and all the federal agencies, we will, as always, be 100 percent prepared.”

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

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