WASHINGTON (BP)–Gerald Ford was hailed for providing integrity and stability at a tumultuous time in American history during the state funeral for the 38th president Jan. 2.
The service at Washington’s National Cathedral came near the close of six days of services and mourning following Ford’s death Dec. 26. Ford, 93, was best known for what is considered a successful effort to restore confidence in government and the presidency when he ascended from vice president after the 1974 resignation of President Richard Nixon under the threat of impeachment. A month later, Ford pardoned Nixon for any crimes committed during the Watergate crisis, a move that produced an onslaught of criticism and may have cost him the 1976 election in a narrow loss to Democrat Jimmy Carter.
President George W. Bush commended Ford’s character and leadership, traits he said brought “calm and healing to one of the most divisive moments in our nation’s history.” Ford demonstrated character in his commitment to his family, in his World War II service in the Navy and in his years in public office, Bush told the more than 3,700 people in attendance.
“President Ford assumed office at a terrible time in our nation’s history,” Bush said. “Gerald Ford was a rock of stability. And when he put his hand on his family Bible to take the presidential oath of office, he brought grace to a moment of great doubt.
“President Ford’s time in office was brief, but history will long remember the courage and common sense that helped restore trust in the workings of our democracy.”
Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, praised Ford’s honesty.
“To political ally and adversary alike, Gerry Ford’s word was always good,” the elder Bush said. “As Americans, we generally eschew notions of the indispensable man, and yet, during those traumatic times, few if any of our public leaders could have stepped into the breach and rekindled our national faith as did President Gerald R. Ford.”
Henry Kissinger, Ford’s secretary of state, and Tom Brokaw, the former NBC News anchorman, also gave tributes to Ford during the service.
In addition to the elder Bush, former Presidents Carter and Clinton, as well as their wives, also attended. Former first lady Nancy Reagan also was present in an audience that included leaders from both political parties.
Two of Ford’s children read Bible passages during the funeral, with Jack Ford reading Isaiah 40:28-31 and Susan Ford Bales reading James 1:19-25.
Ford’s pastor, Rector Robert Certain of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, Calif., brought the message.
Opera singer Denyce Graves sang “The Lord’s Prayer.”
A private family service Dec. 29 in California began the commemorations of Ford’s life. A ceremony was held in the U.S. Capitol rotunda Dec. 30, and his body lay in state until it was taken to National Cathedral for the state funeral. After that Jan. 2 service, his body was flown to Grand Rapids, Mich., where a ceremony was held at the Ford Presidential Library and Museum. A final service was held Jan. 3 at Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids, where Ford grew up, before the burial outside the library and museum.
Ford served in the House of Representatives from Michigan for nearly 25 years, including eight years as the minority leader. Nixon named him vice president in December 1973 to replace Spiro Agnew, who had resigned after pleading no contest to income tax evasion.
The scandal that eventually undermined Nixon’s presidency began with a June 1972 break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington’s Watergate hotel and office building. An attempted cover-up of the break-in brought down numerous administration officials, but Nixon denied any participation. The Supreme Court, however, required Nixon to turn over audio tapes that demonstrated he sought to turn aside the investigation. After the House Judiciary Committee approved an article of impeachment, Nixon resigned Aug. 8, 1974.
In pardoning Nixon Sept. 8, Ford said his greatest concern was the future of the country.
“My conscience tells me clearly and certainly that I cannot prolong the bad dreams that continue to reopen a chapter that is closed,” he said. “My conscience tells me that only I, as president, have the constitutional power to firmly shut and seal this book. My conscience tells me it is my duty, not merely to proclaim domestic tranquility but to use every means that I have to [e]nsure it.”
Ford’s decision to grant a pardon is now looked upon favorably by a majority of Americans.
In 1976, Ford became the first sitting U.S. president to speak to the Southern Baptist Convention. Carter, his opponent in that year’s campaign, was a Southern Baptist at the time.