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President George W. Bush and his wife Laura pause to pay their respects by the casket of former president Gerald Ford in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington on Monday. ((Charles Dharapak/Associated Press))

U.S. President George W.Bush and his wife Laura Bush briefly paid their respects Monday in Washington to Gerald R. Ford, joining thousands of Americans in saying goodbye to the former president.

At mid-afternoon on a rainy, overcast day, the first couple stood at Ford's flag-draped casket and bowed their heads. Their stay at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda lasted just a few minutes.

Bush, who had been vacationing until Monday at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, had saluted Ford in a statement from there last week after the former president's death was announced, and Bush also devoted his weekly Saturday radio address to the fallen leader.

Bush and his wife visited on the third day of mourning in Washington for Ford, whowas 93. Two of Ford's children stood in the Rotunda on Monday, greeting people who came to pay last respects to their father.

Just a few moments later, Bush's father, former U.S. president George H.W. Bush, and his wife Barbara came, stood by the casket and bowed their heads, and then left.

Before the Bushes went to the Hill, Representative Nancy Pelosi, who this week becomes the first woman speaker of the House, paid her respects. And former U.S. president Bill Clinton and his wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, were to visit as well.

Karen Olson, 53, of Herndon, Va., said the rain couldn't dampen her determination to see him. Her mother, who's now deceased, was on his staff, she said.

"I wanted to come pay my respects. He was a big part of my life," said Olson, who was among the people lined up before 9 a.m. ET to enter the Capitol building. "I have a lot of ties to his family."

Family greets public

Inside the Rotunda, Ford's son Michael Gerald Ford and daughter Susan Ford Baleshanded remembrance cards to some of the visitors.

The blue cards had the presidential, vice-presidential and House of Representatives seals, and a biography of Ford on one side. On the other was a photograph of the former president in the Oval Office, his head bowed.

The message on the card: "The family of Gerald R. Ford deeply appreciates your prayers and many kindnesses as together we celebrate and honour the life of a devoted husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather, and the 38th president of the United States."

Following the pardon of Richard Nixon for any crimes from Watergate, Ford lost the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter. Formersenator Bob Dole of Kansas, Ford's running mate in that campaign, returned unannounced to pay his respects again Sunday, after being among the invited guests as an honorary pallbearer at Saturday evening's ceremonies in the Rotunda.

The Rotunda was closed to the public at just after 6 p.m. Sunday, but a military guard, changed every hour, stood silent vigil throughout the night, and then reopened Monday morning.

On Tuesday morning, Ford's remains will rest outside the Senate chamber before a funeral service at Washington National Cathedral, where the president will deliver a eulogy.