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Dignitaries, Guests Gather To Remember Betty Ford

The casket bearing the body of former first lady Betty Ford is carried by members of the armed forces into St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, Calif., on Tuesday.
Jae C. Hong
The casket bearing the body of former first lady Betty Ford is carried by members of the armed forces into St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, Calif., on Tuesday.

Earlier today, the family of former first lady Betty Ford watched as a casket with her body was carried into St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Palm Desert. As the Los Angeles Times describes it, the scenery — "a clear blue sky with the rocky Santa Rosa Mountains" — was a dramatic backdrop to the family's final goodbye.

A private service for the family was held earlier, today. And a public memorial service will be held at 5 p.m. ET today.

About 1,000 family members, dignitaries and guests are expected to attend the memorial, among them First Lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well as Nancy Reagan and former President George W. Bush.

NPR's Cokie Roberts will deliver one of the eulogies. Cokie told Mary Louise Kelly on Monday's Morning Edition that the wife of the nation's 38th president Gerald Ford had asked her to talk about how different political parties could work together.

"What she asked me to talk about after she was gone, was how in the olden days when her husband was minority leader of Congress and my father was majority leader of Congress, that Democrats and Republicans were friends, and that they worked together to get things done," Cokie said. "And I must say, she asked me, she gave me this somewhat daunting assignment five years ago, but it seems incredibly appropriate today and particularly this week as we see what's going on in Washington right now being very different from what was true then."

CSpan will carry the memorial service live and we'll update this post as the memorial gets under way.

Update at 5:40 p.m. ET. Rosalynn Carter Remembers Betty Ford:

President Bush, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, first lady Michelle Obama and former first ladies Nancy Reagan and Rosalynn Carter took their seats in a first-row pew.

Carter delivered a warm eulogy, in which she said her friendship with Betty Ford was just as strong as that of the friendship between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.

Carter said Ford made her understand that there was life outside the White House and she commented about the seismic change that Ford led when it came to talking about alcoholism and cancer.

Update at 6:00 p.m. ET. Friendship Made Governing Possible:

Cokie started her eulogy by joking that Ford had probably planned her death to coincide with the contentious debate happening in Washington over the debt ceiling.

"Mrs. Ford was very clear about what she wanted me to say," Cokie said. "She wanted me to talk about Washington the way itused to be. She knew there were people back then who were wildly partisan, but not as many as today."

Cokie talked about how Carter and Ford were friends despite the fact that Carter defeated Ford in the 1976 presidential election.

"That friendship," said Cokie, "made governing possible."

Cokie also talked about first ladies and their roles behind the scenes. She talked about how Gerald Ford said he supported the Equal Rights Amendment because of the pressure and convincing he received from Betty Ford.

Update at 6:39 p.m. ET. The Funeral:

The service has ended. Betty Ford will be laid to rest Thursday. She will be buried next to her husband near the Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids Michigan.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.