'America needed him,' Bush says in Ford eulogy

More than 3,000 dignitaries gathered at Washington National Cathedral on Tuesday to pay tribute to former U.S. president Gerald R. Ford.

As bellstolled38 times to honour America's 38th president, the casket carrying Gerald R. Fordwas carried downthe steps of the Washington National Cathedral to an awaiting motorcade on Tuesday.

A military honour guard carries the casket of former U.S. president Gerald R. Ford during a state funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral on Tuesday. ((Gerald Herbert/Associated Press))
Four eulogies, including one by U.S. President George W. Bush, weresaid for Ford, who died last week in California at the age of 93.

More than 3,000 invited guests, including the three living ex-presidents — Jimmy Carter, the elder GeorgeBush and Bill Clinton — gathered under towering cathedral arches to remember Ford, who many believeput theUnitedStatesback on track during a time of political turmoilfollowing the Watergate scandal andthe Vietnam War.

"When President Nixon needed to replace a vice-president who had resigned in scandal, he naturally turned to a man whose name was a synonym for integrity," President Bush said in his eulogy. "And eight months later, when he was elevated to the presidency, it was because America needed him, not because he needed the office."

The elder Bush, George H.W., broke the solemnity of the service in his eulogyby cracking light jokes about Ford's reputation for conking spectators with errant golf balls.

Lavish though it was, the national funeral service was a simpler affair than the traditional ceremony bestowed upon late presidents, at the request of the Ford family. The understated ceremony fell in line with what former secretary of state Henry Kissinger characterized as Ford's small-town values.

'He leaves an aching void'

"Gerald Ford left the presidency with no regrets, no second guessing, no obsessive pursuit for his place in history," Kissinger said in his eulogy. "For his friends, he leaves an aching void. Having lived with him will be a badge of honour for the rest of our lives."

Ford's coffin rested in state at the Senate chamber as a tribute to his 25 years as a member of Congress. Over two days and a night, thousands of ordinary Americans shuffled through the rotunda and past the flag-draped coffin at Capitol Hill to pay their respects.

Betty Ford is comforted by her sons Michael Ford, left, and Steve Ford as she visits the casket of her husband, former president Gerald Ford, in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Monday. ((Gerald Herbert/Associated Press))
Bush and his wife, Laura, were among the more than 34,000 people who filed past, as were former president Bill Clinton and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Ford's widow, Betty, 88, visited her husband's casket on Monday with the couple's three sons, one daughter and their spouses. She spent about 20 minutes in the Rotunda, walking over to touch the casket.

Former NBC journalist Tom Brokaw, who had been personally contacted by Ford to represent the White House press corps at his funeral, remembered the era of "citizen Ford" as a welcome change for reporters from Ford's predecessor, Richard Nixon.

"We could be adversaries but we were never his enemy," Brokaw said, referring to the press's relationship with the former president.

"He also brought something else. He brought the humanity that comes with a family that seemed to be living right next door."

Mulroney among dignitaries

Brokaw noted Ford's devotion to his wife, Betty, and how the former president helped her face her public battle with alcoholism. "Together, they put on the front pages the issues that had been underplayed in America far too long," he said.

"Farewell, Mr. President. Thank you, citizen Ford."

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney represented Canada at the service.

It was believed Ford's lobbying was instrumental in the G8 accepting Canada into the bloc.

In Ottawa, the flag on the Peace Tower flew at half-mast.

'The accidental president'

During Ford's tenure from 1974-1977, he became known as "the accidental president" for being the only man in history to serve as president of the United Stateswithout being elected to the post.

Bush declared Tuesday to be a national period of mourning,meaning most federal government offices and financial markets are closed.

Following the funeral, Ford's remains were flown to his home townof Grand Rapids, Mich., where there was a brief private service at the Ford Presidential Museum.

His body will lie in repose there until Wednesday, when he'll be buried at the museum.

With files from the Associated Press