Leaders, Friends Eulogize Former President Former President Gerald Ford's funeral took place Tuesday at the National Cathedral in Washington. Eulogies were given by President George W. Bush, former President George H.W. Bush, and former NBC news anchorman Tom Brokaw.
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Leaders, Friends Eulogize Former President

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Leaders, Friends Eulogize Former President

Leaders, Friends Eulogize Former President

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From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.


And I'm Madeleine Brand.

Coming up: In Somalia, the government tries to reassert authority after years of ineffectiveness.

CHADWICK: First, to this country - an American government in a moment of crisis and uncertainty. Communities, neighbors, families divided over what to do. Deep doubts about the president's role and his judgment.

(Soundbite of song, "America the Beautiful")

BRAND: Those moments were recalled today in Washington at the state funeral for Gerald Ford, who became president more than 30 years ago in a way no other man had.

In the service at the National Cathedral in Washington, the nation honored Mr. Ford as a man called to his moment. NPR's Luke Burbank reports.

LUKE BURBANK: Gerald Ford wasn't president for all that long - just 29 months. He was never elected to the office or even to the vice presidency, for that matter, leading some to brand him the Accidental President. But any question about Ford's political significance was answered with a quick glance around the Washington National Cathedral today during his memorial.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We are here today to say goodbye to a great man.

BURBANK: President George W. Bush addressed a crowd that comprised just about every important political leader still living from the past 30 years.

Mr. BUSH: 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 our democracy.

BURBANK: Ford came to office during one of the most chaotic times in U.S. political history, as President Richard Nixon was resigning over the Watergate scandal. But Ford's Midwestern sensibilities and impeccable reputation made him the right man for the job, said former president George H. W. Bush.

President GEORGE H. W. BUSH: Just as President Lincoln's stubborn devotion to our Constitution kept the Union together during the Civil War, and just as FDR's optimism was the perfect antidote to the despair of a Great Depression, so too can we say that Gerry Ford's decency was the ideal remedy for the deception of Watergate.

BURBANK: President Bush also called Ford a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. And that was the main theme that emerged today throughout the eulogies, that Gerry Ford was a man of understated decency, who - when his country called his name, whether it was to military service or to the U.S. Congress or even the presidency - was there to answer that call.

Henry Kissinger was Ford's secretary of state.

Mr. HENRY KISSINGER (Former Secretary of State under Gerald Ford): If you don't strive for the best, you will never make it. We are to bear witness that Gerry Ford always did his best, and that his best proved essential to renew our society and restore hope to the world.

BURBANK: This had to be the first presidential funeral where Saturday Night Live was invoked by not one, but two of the speakers. That was because Ford took office during a new age of pop culture irreverence directed at the presidency that even extended to his fashion sense, said journalist Tom Brokaw.

Mr. TOM BROKAW (Journalist): With a wardrobe with lapels out to here, white belts, plaid jackets and trousers so patterned that they would give you a migraine. The rest of us have been able to destroy most of the evidence of our fashion meltdown, but presidents are not so lucky.

BURBANK: Beyond the esteemed politicians and music and ceremony, maybe the most indelible images from the funeral were of Ford's family: his four children, and, of course, his wife, Betty Ford.

Again, Tom Brokaw.

Mr. BROKAW: Together, they put on the front pages and in the lead of the evening newscast the issues that had been underplayed in America for far too long.

BURBANK: Presidential funerals have a way of rounding all the edges off of people. Political disagreements are put aside. People bite their tongues and say the best about a person. But as Tom Brokaw noted during President Ford's memorial, this one felt genuine.

Luke Burbank, NPR News.

BRAND: Later in the show, DAY TO DAY's Mike Pesca explores the scene outside the Ford ceremony in Washington.

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