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Ford Praised As Courageous Healer in Washington Farewell

Official Washington bid farewell to former President Gerald Ford on Tuesday. Mr. Ford, the 38th president of the United States, was honored at the National Cathedral in Washington following his death a week ago in California at the age of 93. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more on the Ford funeral from Washington.

After lying in state in the Capitol building for the past few days, Gerald Ford's casket was taken by motorcade through the streets of Washington to the National Cathedral for a funeral service attended by about 3,000 mourners that included President Bush and the three living former presidents, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

In his eulogy, President Bush paid tribute to Gerald Ford as representing the best of America and a man who brought calm and healing to the nation when he assumed the presidency in the wake of President Richard Nixon's resignation in August of 1974.

"Gerald Ford assumed the presidency when the nation needed a leader of character and humility, and we found it in the man from Grand Rapids [Michigan]," Mr. Bush says. "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 democracy."

There was praise as well from Mr. Ford's former secretary of state, Henry Kissinger. Kissinger noted Mr. Ford's leadership in reaching arms control and human rights agreements with the former Soviet Union and his role in helping to bring black majority rule to southern Africa.

"Few will dispute that the Cold War could not have been won had not Gerald Ford emerged at a tragic period to restore equilibrium to America and confidence in its international role," Kissinger says.

As his widow Betty and children looked on, Gerald Ford was hailed for the tone of reconciliation he fostered upon assuming the presidency in the wake of the Nixon resignation and the Watergate scandal that forced Mr. Nixon to leave office.

Gerald Ford served in Congress for 25 years before Mr. Nixon asked him to be vice president following the resignation of Spiro Agnew in 1973.

Mr. Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon was mentioned several times as a politically courageous act that, while condemned at the time, is now seen as an important step in healing the nation.

Former NBC television anchorman Tom Brokaw was among those paying tribute. Brokaw said Mr. Ford's attitude toward the press was in sharp contrast to the antagonistic relationship that grew between reporters and President Nixon.

"Even when we challenged his policies and taxed his patience with our constant presence and persistence, we could be adversaries but we were never his enemy, and that was a welcome change in status from his predecessor's time," Brokaw says.

The Ford presidency lasted only 2.5 years. Many historians believe that negative reaction to the Nixon pardon cost Mr. Ford the 1976 election against Democrat Jimmy Carter.

Former President George H.W. Bush served as President Ford's CIA director during his time in office. Mr. Bush said Gerald Ford's efforts to heal the wounds of Watergate in the aftermath of Richard Nixon's fall from power will be long remembered as one of his greatest contributions.

"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," former president Bush says.

That is a view shared by American University presidential historian Allan Lichtman. He appeared on VOA's Talk to America program.

"He was open, he was candid, he was down to earth," Lichtman says. "This was what the country needed after the twisted brilliance of Richard Nixon and the imperial presidency that Nixon had tried to establish, and of course, the many crimes of Watergate."

Former President Ford will be buried in a private ceremony Wednesday near his presidential museum in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan.