For Ford, a Majestic but Simple Farewell

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John W. Mashek covered the White House for U.S. News during the Ford presidency.

For the uncomplicated man from Grand Rapids, who wound up by accident in the Oval Office, his funeral service in the Washington National Cathedral was appropriate.

It was solemn, yet a celebration of 93 years of a full life, much of it in public service as a World War II naval officer, a congressman, a vice president, and then president.

It was majestic, yet simple. The mighty were there, but so were the not so mighty. There were Ford's fellow Republicans, but a lot of Democrats, too, including the man who defeated him and then became a close friend, Jimmy Carter.

It should have been a reminder to those members of Congress still in office that they should practice a little civility. The public is demanding it.

Ford was a decent politician who could be partisan, as could be expected. But he was always slow to anger and never a hater.

In the rear of the church sat several rows of Eagle Scouts. Ford was one in his youth in Michigan. They snapped to salute when his coffin passed by.

The tributes to the 38th president were fitting. They were serious but laced with some humor. Ford was always able to poke fun at himself. He would have enjoyed Bush 41's imitation of Dana Carvey imitating Bush.

Of course, Tom Brokaw's words were the most telling to me. As a journalist who covered Ford for those 29 months, I appreciated Brokaw's references to an open public servant who never aspired to the presidency.

He reached the office via Watergate and Richard Nixon's resignation. Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the two journalists who broke the story that eventually forced Nixon from office, were in the audience.

Journalists liked Ford, not just because he was the anti-Nixon but because he knew they had a job to do. He surely disliked many of the stories written about him, but he never moaned about it. A "hit list" was out of the question.

As I was searching for an outline of a class I was going to conduct this week for journalism students, I came across a picture of myself and Ford in Vail in 1976.

Ford had already lost the office the preceding month and still hadn't recovered his voice. But he agreed to an interview. He showed up in the living room in a sweater, corduroys, and slippers. He asked if the photographer would blot out the fuzzy slippers.

"Why don't you just go back and put on your pajamas?" I asked in jest.

Ford roared with laughter, sat down, and answered questions for one hour.

That little story said a lot about Jerry Ford.