Politics were subordinate to the personal and the historic in this city today. Under the vaulted ceiling of the National Cathedral, Jimmy Carter was seated next to Lynne Cheney, Rosalyn Carter beside Nancy Reagan. Honorary pallbearers included Brent Scowcroft and Jim Baker, both critics of the Iraq invasion, and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, the war's chief architects. On this day, at Gerald Ford's funeral service, there was no partisan divide. Sitting in the nave, I looked out at the former presidents and their wives and thought about the inescapable sweep of American history. Here were former combatants and their successors, victors and vanquished, now considerably older, and presumably wiser. Over the decades, adversaries had become friends. How else can you explain Ford asking Jimmy Carter to speak at his burial in Grand Rapids?
The eulogies reflected other facets of Gerald Ford's life. George Herbert Walker Bush served with him in Congress and was then sent by Ford to China, and finally to the CIA. Being sent to Langley briefly took Bush out of politics, causing resentment in the Bush camp at the time. Today, the elder Bush instead recalled Jerry Ford's decency and sense of humor. Bush (perhaps identifying as a fellow victim of comic barbs) recalled Chevy Chase's satires of Ford and was even inspired to imitate Dana Carvey imitating him: "But it wouldn't be prudent."
Our own Tom Brokaw perfectly captured Citizen Ford: the man who, like so many of his generation, returned from the war to serve his country again by running for office. Ford, Brokaw said, had "no demons, no hidden agenda, no hit list or acts of vengeance." It was so typical of Ford to include a journalist among his eulogists: Ford was the only president I ever knew who actually liked reporters. In retirement, he even returned to Washington each year to personally award a journalism prize to a selected correspondent. Sure, he occasionally resented the criticism, but he never held grudges, not even against the press corps. A photo in the Washington Post this week was illustrative: Jerry Ford, laughing as he ran toward Air Force One, clearly amused at a question being posed by CBS White House correspondent Phil Jones, while a youthful Helen Thomas and the rest of the White House press corps ran alongside.
There were also solid achievements. At the funeral today, Ford's former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recounted how in only 29 months - 896 days - the Ford administration negotiated the landmark Helsinki Accords on human rights, and the first political agreement between Israel and Egypt. Without, Kissinger said, ever losing the virtues of small-town America -- "sincerity, serenity and integrity."
Jerry Ford was a religious man, but he kept that mostly to himself. He even rejected the advice of some aides to use faith as another reason to justify pardoning Richard Nixon. Ford did not want to wear his religion on his sleeve. But his longtime pastor, the Reverend Robert Certain, knew Jerry Ford's faith ran deep. Ford also cared deeply about the well-being of the church. In his homily today, Dr. Certain -- a former Air Force pilot and prisoner of war in Vietnam -- recounted how Ford called him last summer. At the time, Dr. Certain was preparing to leave for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. The church was facing a schism over the role of human sexuality and women's leadership. Ford told him there shouldn't be divisions among those who lived by the Great Commandments to love God and neighbor -- and asked him to work for reconciliation. Nothing could be more revealing of Jerry Ford's character. To the end, he was the great healer.
Under the Gothic ceiling of the National Cathedral, the mourners' spirits were lifted by the choirs and the soaring soprano of Denyce Graves. But for all its majesty, the service was as simple as could be designed for a former President -- no caisson, no flyovers in Washington. On one level, it was a simple celebration of a life lived well -- a time for a family heartbroken by grief to say goodbye to the man they all -- including Betty -- lovingly called "Dad." The family have been consoled in recent days by the thousands of people who lined the streets of Alexandria, Va., Washington, D.C., and Grand Rapids, Mich., to wave farewell. Betty and the children went to the Rotunda to say "thank you" to those who were streaming by to see the casket. It was an unprecedented, personal touch by the family of a former President from Main Street, U.S.A. It was a gesture Gerald Ford would have understood.