Memorial Service Held for Betty Ford

Attendees included First Ladies Michelle Obama, Rosalynn Carter, Hillary Clinton and Nancy Reagan

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The former First Lady was remembered for her fighting spirit and family values. (Published Tuesday, Jul 12, 2011)

    Friends and family members gathered Tuesday at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Palm Desert for a memorial service for former First Lady Betty Ford.

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    Betty Ford Dead at 93

    [LA] Betty Ford Dead at 93
    Former first lady Betty Ford died Friday in Rancho Mirage, Calif., at age 93. (Published Friday, Jul 8, 2011)

    California Highway Patrol motorcycles and squad cars escorted the casket to the church. It was carried inside by military service members, followed by the family.

    Services began at about 2 p.m.

    Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter delivered one eulogy. National Public Radio news analyst Cokie Roberts and former Betty Ford Center director Geoffrey Mason also spoke during the service.

    "Betty broke new ground in speaking out on women's issues," said Carter, a friend of Ford's for more than 40 years, said. "Her public disclosure of her own battle with breast cancer lifted the veil of secrecy from this terrible disease."

    "She used the influence of the office of first lady to promote early detection, and millions of women are in her debt today," said Carter. "And she was never afraid to speak the truth, even about the most sensitive subjects, including her own struggles with alcohol and pain killers. She got some criticisms. I thought she was wonderful. And her honesty gave hope to others every single day."

    Carter, who met Ford before her Democratic husband had decided to run against Gerald Ford for president, said the most appropriate description of Ford was "someone who was willing to do things a bit differently than they had been done before. Someone who had the courage and grace to fight fear, stigma and prejudice wherever she encountered it."

    "And today it's almost impossible to imagine a time when people were afraid to reveal they had cancer, or speak publicly about personal struggles with alcohol addiction," she said. "She was a tireless advocate for those struggling, some struggling alone, ashamed to seek help."

    Former First Lady Nancy Reagan arrived with former President George W. Bush. First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were also in attendance, as was former California First Lady Maria Shriver.

    Roberts, whose mother -- former Democratic Rep. Lindy Boggs of Louisiana -- was a 60-year friend of Ford, said the former First Lady assigned her to speak at the funeral service and asked her to convey the need for civility in Washington.

    "It will come as a surprise to none of you that the assignment came with instructions," she joked.

    "Mrs. Ford wanted me to remind everyone of the way things used to be in Washington, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if she timed her death to make sure she could convey the message of comity during this week, when it seemed so badly needed," she said.

    Cokie Roberts talked about how Ford and other congressional wives would forge friendships that ignored political parties, and those bonds would often carry over to their husbands.

    "One talent that political wives were expected to cultivate that they didn't share with most women was that of first-rate campaigner," she said. "...It was another activity, that constant campaigning, that brought political wives together. Even if they were on different sides, they had the same complaints. And that meant they forged tightly joined connections that extended to the men as well. They would bring them in together, serve them some drinks and a good meal, listen to their stories and make them behave."

    "And some of that good behavior carried over to the corridors of Congress. It was a role political wives had actually played since the beginning of this republic, and it has worked. Now, former members, former presidents and former members all get together nicely, and it's very nice, it's very nice to see you getting together after the fact, but we wish some of you would get together beforehand," Roberts said.

    Ford and her husband, the nation's 38th president, worshipped at the church. Ford died Friday at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage at the age of 93.

    The public was invited to a post-memorial service repose at 5 p.m. at St. Margaret's Church.

    Ford's body will be flown Wednesday to Grand Rapids, Mich., where she will be buried next to her husband at the Ford Presidential Museum. He died in 2006, also at the age of 93.