America bids farewell to Ford, man of decency and integrity

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The Independent US

George Bush Snr likened him to a figure from a Norman Rockwell painting. Henry Kissinger, who served him as secretary of state, said he had "the virtues of small-town America". But ordinary man that he was, Gerald Ford yesterday was given the finest and most majestic send-off his country could offer.

For one day at least Republicans and Democrats, including the two living Presidents from each party, set aside their differences. At the state funeral for the 38th president at the Washington National Cathedral here, everyone could agree that Mr Ford was the embodiment of the decency and political bipartisanship so conspicuous by their absence today. The day, gusty but glittering clear, began and ended with 21 gun salutes, first on the Mall, close to the White House which Mr Ford occupied for 29 months after the resignation of Richard Nixon; and then at Andrews Air Force Base as the Presidential 747 Air Force One prepared to take off for Grand Rapids, Michigan, the town where he grew up, and home to the Ford Presidential museum where he will be buried.

In between, as the cortege approached the cathedral for the service, its great ceremonial bell sent 38 chimes for Mr Ford's place in the order of presidents ringing out over a city with flags at half-mast in mourning. Inside the building, 3,000 people, including family and friends, as well as almost everyone close to the centre of US power for the past 30 years, had assembled to pay their last respects.

Mr Ford's name was "a synonym for integrity", President George Bush declared. That was why President Nixon chose him to be vice-president, "and eight months later when he was elevated to the presidency, it was because America needed him and not because he needed the office".

But for all the tributes to his official deeds at home and abroad - his success in healing the wounds left by the Watergate scandal, and his dealings with the Soviet Union and in the Middle East - it was the little things that lingered. As befitted a president with uncommonly good relations with the press, a journalist was among those chosen to deliver the eulogies. As Tom Brokaw, the former anchor of NBC News, put it, Ford brought to the Oval Office "no demons, no hidden agenda, no hit-list or acts of vengeance", a reference to the paranoia which gripped the Nixon White House as it sank into scandal and disgrace.

But the best line came from the elder Bush, an avid golfer, as was Mr Ford. The 38th president used to say, Mr Bush recalled, that he knew his golf game was getting better because he was hitting fewer spectators.

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