The late U.S. President Gerald Ford has been laid to rest at his presidential museum in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, following a private service at a local church. VOA's Michael Bowman reports, tens of thousands of well-wishers joined a long list of dignitaries for a final farewell to America's 38th president.
It is perhaps fitting that a president often praised for his humility and unpretentiousness was remembered by his family, longtime friends and colleagues at a simple brick church several miles from Gerald Ford's boyhood home.
Two of the late president's sons read bible passages, and three grandchildren offered prayers as his wife, Betty Ford, looked on from the first row of pews.
Former Defense Secretary Ronald Rumsfeld, who also served in the Ford administration, reminded the congregation of the turmoil that had engulfed America when Gerald Ford assumed the presidency from his disgraced predecessor, Richard Nixon, in 1974.
"Many here remember what our country was like on the day that Gerald Ford took the presidency," he said. "The pressures were enormous. The stakes were high. The world was watching. And the American people were holding their breath, wondering what would happen next. The words President Ford used to reassure our country and the American people were plain, and they were straightforward. His sincerity gave them eloquence. Even in a country coarsened by skepticism, few doubted that the gentleman from Michigan would keep his word."
Gerald Ford was America's only president never to have been elected to either the presidency or the vice presidency. Running to retain the office in 1976, the Republican Ford was narrowly defeated by Democrat Jimmy Carter.
Mr. Carter journeyed to Grand Rapids and paid tribute to his former political opponent and the friendship they forged over the last 30 years.
"You learn a lot about a man when you run against him for president and when you stand in his shoes and assume the responsibilities that he has borne so well," he said. "Jerry and I frequently agreed that one of the greatest blessings that we had after we left the White House was the intense personal friendship that bound us together. And Jerry never came to the Washington area without being invited to have lunch with me at the White House. As president, I relished his sound advice. And he often, although I must say, reluctantly, departed from the prevailing opinion of his political party to give me support on some of my most difficult challenges."
Gerald Ford, who lived to be 93, was buried at his presidential museum, where, before the funeral service, his casket lay in public repose for 18 hours. More than 57,000 people braved near-freezing temperatures to wait as long as six hours to pass by his casket. Ever since the late president's body arrived in Grand Rapids, tens of thousands of people have lined the streets in quiet reverence to view the hearse carrying his remains.
As one resident said with pride and great emotion, "America needs to acknowledge a hero."