Ford Returning Today To Grand Rapids

December 29, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — The late President Gerald R. Ford was to make his final journey to his hometown today, as West Michigan gathers to pay last respects to its favorite son, who died Dec. 26 at age 93.

The casket containing Mr. Ford’s body was scheduled to arrive at the airport bearing his name at 2:15 p.m.. Following an arrival ceremony, the casket will be taken to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in downtown Grand Rapids.

The private ceremony at the museum this afternoon was to feature wreath-laying by University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman and Yale University President Richard C. Levin. Ford earned his undergraduate degree and played football at U-M and received his law degree from Yale.

The public may pay respects to the late president, who grew up and launched his political career in Grand Rapids, from about 5 p.m. today until about 11 a.m. Wednesday at the museum lobby, 303 Pearl St. NW, said Matt McLogan, vice president of university relations for Grand Valley State University. However, Pearl Street will be closed for broadcast media trucks, he said, so mourners must park elsewhere downtown.

People are asked to start at DeVos Place and cross the pedestrian bridge over the Grand River to the black-fabric-draped lobby of the museum, where Mr. Ford’s body will lie in state overnight.

“None of us knows for sure, but the number of people arriving to sign the book has been very steady,” said McLogan. “Sometimes the line is long, sometimes shorter, but there’s always somebody in it. If this is happening now, (then) when the casket is here, the line will be long.”

He said the lobby will be draped in black crepe. The casket will rest on a catafalque, surrounded by flags and a military honor guard. Books will be available for condolences.

After a short departure ceremony around 1 p.m., Wednesday’s 2 p.m. funeral services at Grace Episcopal Church, 1815 Hall St. SE, will be private, as will the burial on the museum’s north side, overlooking the Grand River. Grace Episcopal is the church where Mr. Ford and his widow, Betty, were married on Oct. 15, 1948.

At 3 p.m., the casket is to be taken back to the museum grounds for the private interment service.

The public may line the route today from Gerald R. Ford International Airport to the museum, and on Wednesday between the museum and Grace Church. Boy Scouts intend to line Fulton Street to commemorate Mr. Ford’s rank of Eagle Scout.

Mementoes may be placed along the granite wall and sign on the Pearl Street side of the museum.

Betty Ford and her family were expected to stay in Grand Rapids overnight before returning to California on Thursday afternoon.

Condolences also may be left online at www.GeraldFordMemorial.com. The Ford family requests memorials be made to the Gerald R. Ford Foundation, 303 Pearl St. NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503-5353. The foundation supports the Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids as well as the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor.

The events in Grand Rapids today and Wednesday were preceded by four days of funeral and military services in California, where Mr. and Mrs. Ford have made their home since leaving the White House in 1977, and in Washington, D.C. The Fords, avid skiers in their younger years, also had a home in Beaver Creek, Colo.

Friday began with a 4 p.m. (Pacific time) military ceremony accompanying the arrival of the casket at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, Calif. After a private prayer service, a time of repose was set for 4 p.m. Friday through 8 a.m. Saturday. The president’s remains then were flown to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, arriving about 5:20 p.m. (Eastern time) Saturday.

The motorcade wound its way through Alexandria, Va., where the Ford family lived during the 24 years Mr. Ford represented the Grand Rapids area in Congress. Then it paused at the World War II Memorial on the National Mall before heading to the U.S. Capitol.

At the Capitol, at about 6:30 p.m. Saturday, the casket was carried up the steps of the U.S. House of Representatives. The casket lay in repose at the open House doors, then was carried through Statuary Hall. His remains then lay in state in the Rotunda, open to the public, until 9:15 a.m. today. That was followed by a funeral service this morning at the National Cathedral, which was expected to be attended by President George W. Bush and other dignitaries.

The casket was expected to depart Andrews Air Force base shortly after noon today.    

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