GRAND RAPIDS — With pink and red flowers draped across the top of her casket, former first lady Betty Ford was remembered on Thursday for her tenacity, strength and resilience in her advocacy work and beyond at a funeral ceremony at Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Ford passed away last Friday at the age of 93 in Rancho Mirage, Calif. — the city where she and the late former President Gerald R. Ford retired.
Ford, who was an advocate for breast cancer and substance abuse awareness, returned to Grand Rapids to be laid to rest next to her husband on the banks of the Grand River at the presidential museum that bears his name — the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum.
On Wednesday, her body was met by Republican Governor Rick Snyder on the tarmac of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport where thousands of residents lined the streets waiting to pay their respects as the motorcade passed.
Along with a private memorial service, a public viewing was held at the museum on both Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
Respect for Ford echoed throughout the crowd from those who watched the motorcade to those who waited outside the church for the funeral ceremony.
East Grand Rapids resident, Britton Fowler, watched the motorcade pass from the museum to Thursday’s funeral ceremony with his wife and their three children.
“It was really touching because the families inside the cars, they were waving at us too,” he said. “You know they’re important to this area and this community and very well loved.”
As Ford’s body traveled the short distance from the museum to the church, the streets were lined with American flags and people of all ages who were there to pay their respects to a woman they saw as a hometown hero.
Fowler’s wife, Rebekah Nelson Durell, said she viewed Ford as an icon for women’s rights who pushed political boundaries to gain liberties for females across the nation and was glad to be able to pay her tribute.
“She did so much for women’s rights and for women’s values at a time when a lot of women didn’t speak up,” Durell said. “Feeling that she could go against the political views of her husband and just standing really true to that … It’s really phenomenal”
When President Ford passed away four years ago a similar series of events occurred in Grand Rapids, but community members said the tone was different since he had a military funeral, whereas his wife did not.
Julie Laham, whose mother lives in a house directly across from the church, said the front yard of her mother’s house was impenetrable when President Ford died because it was filled with military personnel. However, she said the scene on Thursday was much different as community members walked through with ease.
Laham added the Ford family wanted to personally thank her for allowing to have her house blocked off by the barricade and media platform on Thursday, so they came over on the morning of the funeral — accompanied by the secret service — to give her a ticket to attend the ceremony.
“The sense is that they were a very approachable everyday family that did extraordinary things, I think that’s a good way to speak of all of them,” Laham said. “Everything they did locally to even stuff that they’ve done since they’ve been away and living in California, I just think that they love their hometown.”
President Ford said in 1976 as he started his presidency, “I am indebted to no man and only one woman, my dear wife, Betty, as I begin this very difficult job.”
And Thursday, they were joined together once again.