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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Nation Honors President Ford

Aired January 2, 2007 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I remember that lesson well, since being able to laugh at yourself is essential in public life. I'd tell you more about that, but as Dana Carvey would say, not gonna do it, wouldn't be prudent.
(LAUGHTER)

In the end, we are all God's children. And on this bittersweet day, we can take solace that the lord has come and taken this good man by the hand and led him home to heaven.

It is plain to see how the hand of providence spared Jerry in World War II and later against two assassination attempts. And for that we give thanks. It is just as plain to see how the same hand directed this good man to lead a life of noble purpose, a life filled with challenge and accomplishment, a life indelibly marked by honor and integrity. And today we give thanks for that, too.

May almighty God bless the memory of Gerald R. Ford, keep him firm in the hearts of his countrymen. And may God bless his wonderful family.

HENRY KISSINGER, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: According to an ancient tradition, God preserves humanity, despite its many transgressions. Because at any one period there exists 10 (ph) just individuals who, without being aware of their own, redeemed mankind. Gerald Ford was such a man.

Propelled into the presidency by a sequence of unpredictable events, he had an impact so profound it's rightly to be considered providential. Unassuming and without guide, Gerald Ford undertook to restore the confidence of Americans in their political institutions and purposes. Never having aspired to national office, he was not consumed by driving ambition. In his understated way, he did his duty as a leader, not as a performer, playing to the gallery.

Gerald Ford had the virtues of small-town America: sincerity, serenity and integrity. As it turned out, the absence of glibness and his artless decency became a political asset, fostering an unusual closeness to leaders around the world, which continued long after he left office.

In recent days, the deserved commentary on Gerald Ford's character has sometimes obscured how sweeping and lasting were his achievements.

Gerald Ford's prudence and common sense kept ethnic conflicts in Cyprus and Lebanon from spiraling into regional war. He presided over the final agony of Indochina with dignity and wisdom.

In the Middle East, his persistence produced the first political agreement between Israel and Egypt.

He helped shape the final act of the European Security Conference, which established an internationally recognized standard for human rights now generally accepted as having hastened the collapse of the former Soviet empire.

He sparked the initiative to bring majority rule to southern Africa, a policy that was a major factor in ending colonialism there.

In his presidency, the International Energy Agency was established, which still fosters cooperation among all consuming nations.

Gerald Ford was one of the founders of the continuing annual economic summit among the industrial democracies.

Throughout his 29 months in office, he persisted in conducting negotiations with our principal adversary over the reduction and control of nuclear arms.

Gerald Ford was always driven by his concern for humane values. He stumped me in his fifth day in office when he used the first caller (ph) named by the Soviet ambassador to intervene on behalf of a Lithuanian seaman who, four years earlier, had in a horrible (INAUDIBLE) been turned over to Soviet authorities after seeking asylum in America.

Against all diplomatic presidents and, I must say, against the advice of all experts, Gerald Ford requested that the seaman, a Soviet citizen, in a Soviet jail, not only be released, but be turned over to American custody. Even more amazingly, his request was granted.

Throughout the final ordeal of Indochina, Gerald Ford focused on America's duty to rescue the maximum number of those who had relied on us. The extraction of 150,000 refugees was the consequence. And typically, Gerald Ford saw it as his duty to visit one of the refugee camps long after public attention had moved elsewhere.

Gerald Ford summed up his concern for human values at the European Security Conference. When looking directly at Brezhnev, he proclaimed America's deep devotion to human rights and individual freedoms. "To my country," he said, "they are not cliches or empty phrases."

Historians will debate for a long time over which president contributed most to victory in the Cold War. Few will dispute that the Cold War could not have been won had not Gerald Ford emerged at a tragic period to restore equilibrium to America and confidence in its international law.

Sustained by his beloved wife Betty, and to the children to whom he was devoted, Gerald Ford left the presidency with no regrets, no second-guessing, no obsessive pursuit of his place in history. For his friends, he leaves an aching void. Having known Jerry Ford and worked with him will be a badge of honor for the rest of our lives.

Early in his administration Gerald Ford said to me, "I get mad as hell but I don't show it when I don't do as well as I should. If you don't strive for the best, you will never make it."

We are here to bear witness that Jerry Ford always did his best and that his best proved essential to renew our society and restore hope to the world.

TOM BROKAW, JOURNALIST: Mrs. Ford, members of the Ford family, President and Mrs. Bush, vice president and Mrs. Cheney, President and Mrs. Bush, President and Mrs. Carter, President and Mrs. Clinton, distinguished guests, my fellow Americans, it's a great privilege and an honor for me to be here.

For the past week we have been hearing the familiar lyrics of the hymns to the passing of a famous man, the hosannas his decency, his honesty, his modesty and his steady-as-she-goes qualities. It's what we've come to expect on these occasions. But this time, there was extra value, for in the case of Gerald Ford, these lyrics have the added virtue of being true.

Sometimes there are two versions to these hymns, one public and one private, separate and discordant. But in Gerald Ford, the man he was in public, he was also that man in private.

Gerald Ford brought to the political arena no demons, no hidden agenda, no hit list or acts of vengeance. He knew who he was and he didn't require consultants or gurus to change him.

Moreover, the country knew who he was. And despite occasional differences, large and small, it never lost its affection for this man from Michigan, the football player, the lawyer and the veteran, the congressman and suburban husband, the champion of Main Street values who brought all of those qualities to the White House.

Once there, he stayed true to form, never believing that he was suddenly wiser and infallible because he drank his morning coffee from a cup with a presidential seal. He didn't seek the office and, yet, as he told his friend, the late great journalist Hugh Sidey, he was not frightened of the task before him.

We could identify with him, all of us, for so many reasons. Among them, we were all trapped in what passed for style in the '70s, 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. Those David Kennerly photographs are reminders of his endearing qualities, but some of those jackets, I think that they're eligible for a presidential pardon, or at least a digital touchup.

As a journalist, I was especially grateful for his appreciation of our role, even when we challenged his policies and taxed his patience with our constant presence and persistence. We could be adversaries, but we were never his enemy. And that was a welcome change in status from his predecessor's time.

To be a member of the Gerald Ford White House press corps brought her benefits as well, as we documented a nation and a world in transition and turmoil. We accompanied him to audiences with the notorious and the merely powerful. We saw Tito; Franco; Saddam; Marco; Suharto; the Shah of Iran; the emperor of Japan; China, with Mao Tse-tung; and Teng Hsiao-ping all at once. What was then the Soviet Union with Leonid Brezhnev, and Helsinki, one of the most remarkable gatherings of leaders in the 20th century.

There were other advantages to being a member of his press corps that we didn't advertise quite as widely. We went to Vail at Christmas and Palm Springs at Easter time with our families. Now, cynics might argue that contributed to our affection for him. That is not a premise that I wish to challenge.

One of our colleagues, Jim Naughton, of "The New York Times," personified the spirit that existed in the relationship. He bought from a San Diego radio station promoter a large mock chicken head that had attracted the president's attention at a GOP rally, and then giddy from 20-hour days and an endless repetition of the same campaign speech, Naughton decided to wear that chicken head to a Ford news conference in Oregon with the enthusiastic encouragement of the president and his chief of staff, Dick Cheney.

In the next news cycle, the chicken head was a bigger story than the president. And no one was more pleased than the man that we honor here today in this august ceremony.

The president called me last year and asked me if I would participate in these services. I think he wanted to be sure that the White House press corps was represented -- the writers, correspondents and producers, the cameramen, photographers, the technicians and the chicken.

He also brought something else to the White House, of course. He brought the humanity that comes with a family that seemed to be living right next door.

He was every parent when he said, "My children have spoken for themselves since they were old enough to speak, and not always with my approval. I expect that to continue in the future."

And was there a more supportive husband in America than when his beloved Betty began to speak out on issues that were not politically correct at the time. 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.

My colleague, Bob Schieffer, called him the nicest man he ever met in politics. To that, I would add, the most underestimated.

In many ways I believe football was a metaphor for his life in politics and after. He played in the middle of the line. He was a center, a position that seldom receives much praise, but he had his hands on the ball for every play and no play could start without him.

And when the game was over and others received the credit, he didn't whine or whimper. But then he came from a generation accustomed to difficult missions, shaped by the sacrifices and the deprivations of the Great Depression. A generation that gave up its innocence and youth to then win a great war and save the world.

And when Gerald Ford and that generation came home from war, they were mature beyond their years and eager to make the world they had saved a better place. They re-enlisted as citizens and set out to serve their country in new ways, with political differences but always with the common goal of doing what's best for the nation and all of the people.

When he entered the Oval Office by fate, not by design, citizen Ford knew that he was not perfect, just as he knew he was not perfect when he left. But what president ever was. But he was prepared, because he had served his country every day of his adult life and he left the Oval Office a much better place.

The personal rewards of his citizenship and his presidency were far richer than he had anticipated in every sense of the phrase. But the greatest rewards of Jerry Ford's time were reserved for his fellow Americans and the nation he loved.

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

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mrs. Ford, the Ford family, distinguished guests, including our presidents and first ladies, and our fellow citizens, we are here today to say good-bye to a great man.

Gerald Ford was born and reared in the American heartland. He belonged to a generation that measured men by their honesty and their courage. He grew to manhood under the roof of a loving mother and father, and when times were tough, he took part-time jobs to help them out.

In President Ford, the world saw the best of America. And America found a man whose character and leadership would bring calm and healing to one of the most divisive moments in our nation's history.

Long before he was known in Washington, Gerald Ford showed his character and his leadership.

As a star football player for the University of Michigan, he came face to face with racial prejudice. When Georgia Tech came to Ann Arbor for a football game, one of Michigan's best player was an African-American student named Willis Ward (ph). Georgia Tech said they would not take the field if a black man were allowed to play.

Gerald Ford was furious at Georgia Tech for making the demand and for the University of Michigan for caving in. He agreed to play only after Willis Ward (ph) personally asked him to.

The stand Gerald Ford took that day was never forgotten by his friend. And Gerald Ford never forgot that day either. And three decades later, he proudly supported the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in the United States Congress.

Gerald Ford showed his character and devotion to his family. On the day he became president he told the nation, "I am indebted to no man and only to one woman, my dear wife."

By then, Betty Ford had a pretty good idea of what marriage to Gerald Ford involved. After all, their wedding had taken place less than three weeks before his first election to the United States Congress. And his idea of a honeymoon was driving to Ann Arbor with his bride so they could attend a brunch before the Michigan- Northwestern game the next day.

And that was the beginning of a great marriage.

The Fords would have four fine children. And Steve, Jack, Mike and Susan know that as proud as their dad was of being president, Gerald Ford was even prouder of the other titles he held, father and grandfather and great grandfather.

Gerald Ford showed his character in the uniform of our country. When Pearl Harbor was attacked in December 1941, Gerald Ford was an attorney fresh out of Yale Law School. But when his nation called he did not hesitate.

In early 1942, he volunteered for the Navy, and after receiving his commission worked hard to get assigned to a ship headed into combat. Eventually his wish was granted and Lieutenant Ford was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Monterey, which saw action in some of the biggest battles of the Pacific.

Gerald Ford showed his character in public office. As a young congressman he earned a reputation for an ability to get along with others without compromising his principles. He was greatly admired by his colleagues, and they trusted him a lot.

And so 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, Gerald R. Ford. And eight months later, when he was elevated to the presidency, it was because America needed him, not because he needed the office.

President Ford assumed office at a terrible time in our nation's history. At home, America was divided by political turmoil and wracked by inflation. In Southeast Asia, Saigon failed just nine months into his presidency.

Amid all the turmoil, Gerald Ford was a rock of stability. And when he put his hand on his family bible to take the presidential oath of office, he brought grace to a moment of great doubt.

In a short time, the gentleman from Grand Rapids proved that behind the affability was firm resolve. When a U.S. ship called the Mayaguez was seized by Cambodia, President Ford made the tough decision to send in the Marines, and all the crew members were rescued. He was criticized for signing the Helsinki Accords, yet history has shown that document helped bring down the Soviet Union as courageous men and women behind the Iron Curtain used it to demand their God-given liberties.

Twice assassins attempted to take the life of this good and decent man, yet he refused to curtail his public appearances.

And when he thought that the nation needed to put Watergate behind us, he made the tough and decent decision to pardon President Nixon, even though that decision probably cost him the presidential election.

Gerald Ford assumed the presidency when the nation needed a leader of character and humility. And we found it in the man from Grand Rapids.

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.

Laura and I had the honor of hosting the Ford family for Gerald Ford's 90th birthday. It's one of the highlights of our time in the White House.

I will always cherish the memory the last time I saw him, this past year in California. He was still smiling, still counting himself lucky to have Betty at his side, and still displaying the optimism and generosity that made him one of America's most beloved leaders.

And so on behalf of a grateful nation, we bid farewell to our 38th president. We thank the almighty for Gerald Ford's life, and we ask for God's blessings on Gerald Ford and his family.

REV. ROBERT CERTAIN, ST. MARGARET'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH: The holy gospel of our lord, Jesus Christ, according to John.

Jesus said do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my father's house there are many dwelling places, if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.

Thomas said to him, Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way? Jesus said to him, I am the way and the truth and the life.

The Gospel of the Lord.

AUDIENCE: (INAUDIBLE) CERTAIN: May the words of my mouth and meditations of my heart be always acceptable in my sight oh, Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.

Jesus said many things and many of his words have been reflected in the life and ministry of Gerald Ford. In Matthew 5 at the beginning of our Lord's ministry, Jesus gives us a list of virtues in the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount.

The contemporary English version lists them this way. God blesses those people who depend only on him, they belong to the kingdom of heaven.

Gerald Ford, you have always been a man of that kingdom. God blesses those people who are humble. The Earth will belong to them. My dear friend, this Earth was yours.

God blesses those people who want to obey him more than to eat or to drink. They will be given what they want. Gerald, you are well satisfied.

God blesses those people who are merciful. They will be treated with mercy. Gerald Ford, you showed mercy when others demanded vengeance. My God have mercy on your soul.

God blesses those people whose hearts are pure. They will see him. Gerald Ford, may you gaze this day on the face of our savior.

God blesses those who make peace. They will be called his children. Gerry Ford, you are truly a child of god.

God blesses those people who were treated badly for doing right. They belong to the kingdom of heaven. Mr. President, we did not always treat you well when you chose the right course for us. Then and now, you are a man of the kingdom of God.

There was one more beatitude. One that I moved to last. God blesses those people who grieve. They will find comfort. Betty, Susan, Mike, Jack, Steven and all of your wonderful family, may God bring you comfort in this time of your grief.

Gerald Ford was a Christian man who represented Christianity at its very best. A man who lived his life in accordance with the virtues of the beatitudes. For us, he will continue to serve as an example of how to live as a man of faith, a man of the nation, a man for the world.

Earlier this past summer as I prepared to leave for the general convention of the Episcopal Church, President Ford's concern was for the church he loved.

he asked me if we would face schism. After we discussed the various issues, we would consider particularly concerns about human sexuality and the leadership of women, he said that he did not think they should be divisive for anyone who lived by the great commandments and the great commission to love God and to love neighbor. He then asked me to work for reconciliation within the church. I assured him I would, just as he had worked for reconciliation within this nation 30 years ago.

On the last day of his earthly ministry, Jesus said in John 15:13, greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

In World War II Gerald Ford served in the Navy, willing to die for this nation and our allies. As he became vice president, he laid aside his life's ambition to be Speaker of the House and as president, he laid aside his political future to heal this nation.

And as an elder statesman, he laid aside his treasured privacy to continue to serve this church, this nation, and the world. As a statesman, churchman, and family man, Gerald Ford was a man of deep faith and constant prayer.

With confidence in God who created, redeemed, and sustained him, his dividing mantra was Proverbs 3, verses 5 and 6. With all your heart you must trust the Lord and not your own judgment. Always let him lead you and he will clear a road for you to follow.

With that proverb in mind, President Ford found clarity for the road he walked and he gave us a clear example to follow in our own lives.

Gerald Ford, in his public life and in his private life, was a man who was quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. He was humble and meek, a man who cared deeply for the good and well-being of others, a man who always placed us first.

He was a man who sought the image of God in every person he met, who respected their God-given dignity, who worked all his life for justice and peace on earth, a man who let the light of Christ shine brightly in his life.

In John 14, 1 through 6, Jesus tells us that he has gone before us to prepare a place and he promises to return to take us to our eternal home.

On St. Steven's Day, 2006, Jesus said to Gerald Ford, welcome home, good and faithful servant. On St. Steven's Day 2006, Gerald Ford discovered his strength renewed and rose with wings like an eagle to the nearer presence of Christ Jesus where he will never again be weary.

Gerald, maybe you find your road cleared as you continue to follow your Lord in the church triumphant and in the work of his kingdom in heaven.

(SILENCE)

(MUSIC)

REAR ADM. ROBERT BURT, CHIEF O0F NAVY CHAPLAINS: In peace, let us pray to the Lord -- Almighty God, who has knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy son, Christ, our Lord. Grant, we beseech thee to thy whole church in paradise and on Earth, thy light and thy peace.

CROWD: Amen.

BURT: Grant that all who have been baptised into Christ's death and resurrection may die to sin and rise to newness of life, and that through the grave and gate of death we may pass with him to our joyful resurrection.

CROWD: Amen.

BURT: Grant to us who are still in our pilgrimage and who walk as yet by faith that thy holy spirit may lead us in holiness and righteousness all our days.

CROWD: Amen.

BURT: Grant to thy faithful people pardon and peace that we may be cleansed from all our sins and serve thee with a quiet mind.

CROWD: Amen.

BURT: Grant to all who mourn a sure confidence in thy fatherly care, that casting all their grief on thee they may know the consolation of thy love.

CROWD: Amen.

BURT: Give courage and faith to those who are bereaved that they may have strength to meet the days ahead in the comfort of a reasonable and holy hope, in the joyful expectation of eternal life with those they love.

CROWD: Amen.

BURT: Help us, we pray, in the midst of things we cannot understand, to believe and to trust in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection to life everlasting.

CROWD: Amen.

BURT: Grant us grace to entrust Gerald to thy never failing love, receive him into the arms of thy mercy and rember him according to the favor which thou bearest unto though people.

CROWD: Amen.

BURT: Grant that increasing knowledge and love of thee. He may go from strength to strength in the life of perfect service in thy heavenly kingdom.

CROWD: Amen.

BURT: Grant us with all who have died in the hope of the resurrection to have our consumation and bliss in thy eternal and everlasting glory, and with all thy saints to receive the crown of life which thou does promise to all who share in the victory of thy son, Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the holy spirit, one God, forever and ever.

CROWD: Amen.

(SINGING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give rest, O Christ, to thy servants with thy saints.

Thou only art immortal, the creator and maker of mankind. And we are mortal, formed of the earth, and unto earth shall we return. For so thou it is ordained when thou createst me saying, dust though art, and unto dust shall thou return. All we go down to the dust, yet even at the grave we make our song hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.

Into thy hands, o merciful savior, we command thy servant Gerald. Acknowledge we humbly beseech thee a sheep of thy known fold, a lamb of thine own flock, a sinner of thine own redeeming, receive him into the arms of thy mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace and into the glorious company of the saints in light.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The God of peace who brought again from the dead our lord Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his height, through Jesus Christ, to whom the glory forever and ever. Amen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let us go forth in the name of Christ.

CROWD: Thanks be to God.

(SINGING)

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