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The Situation Room
Former President Ford Lies in State at the Capitol
Aired December 30, 2006 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SEN. TED STEVENS (R) ALASKA: No one should suggest the tasks before him were easy. President Ford was scrutinized, questioned, and criticized. He was tested by the fire of public opinion.
Few have remained hopeful in the face of such adversity, but Gerald Ford's optimism about America never wavered. He faced each challenge with bravery and courage matched only by his wife, Betty, a woman who literally offered hope to millions of Americans by candidly sharing her experiences and inner strength. President Ford once said, "I'm indebted to no man, and only one woman, my dear wife." That debt our nation shares, for Betty Ford is one of the most remarkable first ladies to have ever graced the White House.
In the days since President Ford's passing, many words have been spoken and many statements published alluding to the tremendous character with which he approached his nearly three decades of public office. It was a character I witnessed firsthand as the chair of our Senate campaign committee when I worked closely with President Ford and his running mate, Senator Bob Dole. During that time, I developed a deeper understanding, a greater appreciation for Jerry Ford as a man, a father and a husband.
As was his running mate, Bob Dole, he was deeply committed to our democracy. Absolute honesty, integrity, and openness were the hallmarks of his career. They are the legacy and the challenge he leaves to us now. President Ford's life is a reminder to those who served this democracy, under this Capitol dome and elsewhere, that we are, for a time, the keepers of this great American experiment.
Good stewardship requires us to see beyond party, beyond division, beyond personal aspirations. President Ford once said the Constitution is the bedrock of all our freedoms. Guard and cherish it. Keep honor and order in your own house, and the republic will endure. It will be a fitting tribute to our good friend's memory to make this truth our intent and purpose.
Thank you very much.
REP. DENNIS HASTERT, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Mrs. Ford, members of the Ford family, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, and distinguished guests, I don't think it's a coincidence that American history seems to be an almost providential narrative, a story about finding the right man at the right time to lead this nation.
The presidency is more than agendas and ideas. It is, at its core, a human institution, molded and shaped by the character of the men who serve there. In the summer of 1974, America didn't need a philosopher king, or a warrior prince, an aloof aristocrat, a populist firebrand. We needed a healer. We needed a rock. We needed honesty and candor and courage. We needed Gerald Ford.
President Ford was one of the few men in history who did not need great events to make him great. On the football field, in the halls of Congress, and in the Oval Office, there was always something big and solid, always something big and solid and good about Gerald Ford.
In this sacred place, the president now lies in state under the statue of Freedom. On the way here, we paused at the door to the House of Representatives, and in that place, the People's House, where Gerald Ford served for a quarter of a century, he was known simply as the gentleman from Michigan. And while all members are afforded this courtesy, in the case of Gerald Ford, "gentleman" was much more a description of the man himself.
For in a time when turmoil and bitter division were all too common, he stood out as a man of deep civility, quiet thoughtfulness, and sound judgment. Like Abraham Lincoln, another great Midwestern president, who confronted a nation divided, Gerald Ford was called upon to bind our country's wounds. The twin crises of Vietnam and Watergate had crippled America, sapped our strength, shaken our confidence. And with humility and devotion to purpose, Gerald Ford united us once again.
In an era of moral confusion, Gerald Ford confidently lived the virtues of honesty, decency, and steadfastness. His example of fairness and fair play, of dignity and grace, brought forth in us our better instincts. He reminded us who we should be, and he helped us to heal.
The traits that Gerald Ford showed us as a congressional leader, the ability to listen, the courage to forward compromise in the face of shrill partisanship, and the willingness to make the hard and sometimes unpopular decisions served him well as president.
The critics of the day got it wrong, but history is getting it right. Despite his considerable achievements, the greatness of Gerald Ford lies not in what he did, but in who he was. He represented the strength of the Middle America that forged him. He never changed. Even when power was thrust upon him, he remained an Everyman who exemplified all that is good about America.
Mrs. Ford, you were his best friend, his close partner, and along with his faith, the source of his strength. You and your children knew him as a devoted family man, and you loved him for his integrity, and his kindness, and his humor. And as the leader of our country, just at a difficult time in our history, it was those qualities that drew a grateful nation to him as well. We can never thank you enough for sharing him with us.
Just a few short feet from here, in the House chamber, Gerald Ford was sworn in as president -- vice president of the United States. It would not be long before he would become our president. Speaking to the nation after taking the oath as president, he concluded by saying, "I now solemnly reaffirm my promise to uphold the Constitution, to do what is right, as God gives me to see the right, and to do the very best for America. God helping me, I will not let you down."
You did right, Mr. President. You did not let us down. Well done, good and faithful servant. Godspeed, Mr. President.
RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mrs. Ford, Susan, Mike, Jack, and Steve, distinguished guests, colleagues, and friends, and fellow citizens, nothing was left unsaid, and at the end of his days, Gerald Ford knew how much he meant to us and to his country.
He was given length of years, and many times, in his company, we paid our tributes and said our thanks. We were proud to call him our leader, grateful to know him as a man. We told him these things, and there is comfort in knowing that.
Still, it is an ending, and what is left now is to say good-bye.
He first stood under this dome at the age of 17, on a high school tour in the Hoover years. In his congressional career, he passed through this rotunda so many times, never once imagining all the honors that life would bring.
He was an unassuming man, our 38th president, and few have ever risen so high with so little guile or calculation. Even in the three decades since he left this city, he was not the sort to ponder his legacy, to brood over his place in history.
And so, in these days of remembrance, as Gerald R. Ford goes to his rest, it is for us to take the measure of the man.
It's hard to imagine that this most loyal of men began life as an abandoned child, facing the world alone with his mother. He was devoted to her always, and also to the fine man who came into their lives and gave the little boy a name he would carry into history.
Gerald and Dorothy Ford expected good things of their son. As it turned out, there would be great things too in a journey of 93 years that would fill them with loving pride.
Jerry Ford was always a striver, never working an angle, just working. He was a believer in the saying that in life, you make your own luck. That's how the Boy Scout became an Eagle Scout, and the football center a college all-star, and the sailor in war a lieutenant commander. That's how the student who waited tables and washed dishes earned a law degree, and how the young lawyer became a member of the United States Congress, class of 1948.
The achievements added up all his life, yet he was known to boast only about one. I heard it once or twice myself. He said he was never luckier than when he stepped out of Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids with a beautiful girl named Betty as his bride. Fifty-eight years ago, almost to the day, the new member from Michigan's Fifth District moved into his office in the Cannon Building and said his first hello to the congressman next door, John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts. They belonged to a generation that came early to great duties, and took up responsibilities readily, and shared a confidence in their country and its purposes in the world.
In that 81st Congress were four future presidents and others who wished for that destiny. For his part, Mr. Ford of Michigan aspired only to be speaker of the House, and by general agreement, he would have made a fine one.
Good judgment, fair dealing, and the manners of a gentleman go a long way around here, and these were the mark of Jerry Ford for a quarter of a century in the House. It was a Democrat, the late Martha Griffith, who said, "I never knew him to make a dishonest statement, nor a statement part true and part false, and I never heard him utter an unkind word."
Sometimes, in our political affairs, kindness and candor are only more prized for their scarcity, and sometimes even the most careful designs of men cannot improve upon history's accident. This was the case in the 62nd year of Gerald Ford's life, a bitter season in the life of our country.
It was a time of false words and ill will. There was great malice, and great hurt, and a taste for more. And it all began to pass away on a Friday in August, when Gerald Ford laid his hand on the Bible and swore to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.
He said, "You have not elected me as your president by your ballot, and so I ask you to confirm me as your president with your prayers."
What followed was a presidency lasting 895 days, and filled with testing and trial, enough for a much longer stay. Even then, amid troubles not of his own making, President Ford proved as worthy of that office as any who had ever come before.
He was modest and manful. There was confidence and courage in his bearing. In judgment, he was sober and serious, unafraid of decisions, calm and steady by nature, always the still point in the turning wheel. He assumed power without assuming airs. He knew how to treat people. He answered courtesy with courtesy. He answered discourtesy with courtesy.
This president's hardest decision was also among his first. And in September of 1974, Gerald Ford was almost alone in understanding that there can be no healing without pardon. The consensus holds that this decision cost him an election. That is very likely so. The criticism was fierce. But President Ford had larger concerns at heart. And it is far from the worst fate that a man should be remembered for his capacity to forgive.
In politics, it can take a generation or more for a matter to settle, for tempers to cool. The distance of time has clarified many things about President Gerald Ford. And now, death has done its part to reveal this man and the president for what he was.
He was not just a cheerful and pleasant man, although these virtues are rare enough at the commanding heights. He was not just a nice guy, the next-door neighbor whose luck landed him in the White House. It was this man, Gerald R. Ford, who led our republic safely through a crisis that could have turned to catastrophe.
We will never know what further unravelings, what greater malevolence might have come in that time of furies turned loose and hearts turned cold. But we do know this. America was spared the worst, and this was the doing of an American president.
For all the grief that never came, for all the wounds that were never inflicted, the people of the United States will forever stand in debt to the good man and faithful servant we mourn tonight.
Thinking on all this, we are only more acutely aware of a time in our lives and of its end, and we can be certain that Gerald Ford would now ask only that we remember his wife.
Betty, the president was not a hard man to read, and to his friends, nothing was more obvious than the source of his great happiness. It was you, and all the good that you shared, Betty, all the good that you did together has not gone away. All of that is forever.
There is a time to every purpose under heaven. In the years of Gerald Rudolph Ford, it was a time to heal.
There is also in life a time to part, when those who are dear to us must go their way. And so, for now, Mr. President, farewell. We will always be thankful for your good life. In Almighty God we place our confidence, and to Him, we confirm you with our love, and with our prayers.
PASTOR BARRY BLACK, SENATE CHAPLAIN: Let us pray.
Eternal Lord God, the giver of every good and perfect gift, this evening, we express our gratitude to You for giving our nation the blessing of President Gerald R. Ford.
Lord, when this land desperately needed strong and moral leadership, you gave it President Ford's astuteness, honor, commitment, and courage. When we needed a model of unswerving integrity, you provided us with someone who was true and honest.
Accept our gratitude for his courage to decide based upon principles, for his pragmatic leadership during cynical times, and for his long life of exemplary service. Thank you, Lord, for his efforts to do what was in the country's best interest, and for helping to bind the nation's wounds after Vietnam and Watergate.
Thank you, also, for permitting him to remind us that family and faith still matter, and that right living is a language which is clear to everyone. Comfort those who mourn, particularly Mrs. Ford and the children.
May the memory of President Ford's dignity, decency, diligence, and decisiveness challenge us to use our lives for your glory.
We pray in the name of him who is the resurrection and the life.
WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR: The music has started. The guests, the family members, all those assembled are beginning to leave the rotunda. That's where the casket of Gerald R. Ford, the 38th president of the United States, now lies in state.
Beginning in a few moments, the American public will have a chance to walk up the stairs into the rotunda and pay their respects over the next couple days.
There you see some of the official pallbearers leaving, paying their respects, Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, the former secretary of state Henry Kissinger. Among them, the former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft.
Outside, the flag flies at half-staff. Over these 30 days, the official period of mourning here in the United States, this morning, we'll continue here in the rotunda of the United States Capitol.
Bob Franken is up on Capitol Hill watching all of this together with us.
There was about a five-minute interruption, Bob, before this ceremony commenced in the rotunda. One of the official guests had collapsed, and causing emergency medical personnel to come to the scene. Give our viewers an update on what we know.
BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that it was an 84- year-old former congressman from Michigan, Republican William Brumfield. He -- after that occurred, and among those who attended to him was the outgoing senator majority leader, Dr. Bill Frist. He was taken to the Capitol physician's office a floor below.
We've gotten some indications that it was a case of exhaustion. I should point out that the floors in the rotunda in the Capitol are marble, and as somebody who has stood on those floors, I can tell you, you get mighty tired standing there. There is no give at all.
So there's some hope that this was simply a case of exhaustion, that an 84-year-old man just got a little bit tired. And we're hoping that it is as simple as that.
In any case, the rotunda, there's now being emptied by the official parties, and in the not-too-distant future, the people of the United States who want to can go through there and pay their respects.
The body, by the way, rests at the exact center of the Capitol, and it is that spot in the rotunda which is the center, right between the House and Senate sides of the Capitol. It is also the geographical center of the District of Columbia.
In any case, the medical people continue to tend to Congressman Brumfield, and we can only hope that it's not too serious.
BLITZER: Let's hope it is not serious, and that he'll be just fine. I just wanted to update our viewers on that brief interruption.
And you can see mourners beginning to -- this process will continue now tomorrow and Monday until Tuesday morning, as Americans in general walk past this casket and pay their respects to the 38th president of the United States.
Jeff Greenfield, these three eulogies we heard, they all had a similar theme of the simple nature of Jerry Ford, but the powerful presidency that he brought with it.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When a person has served as president for 895 days -- I think only four presidents have served a shorter tenure -- when your Congress is dominated by the opposition, you're not going to have much of a chance to build a political legacy. That's been pointed out before during our coverage, the contrast with Ronald Reagan, an iconic figure in American conservatism, a two-term president who presided over the start of the end of the cold war. That's a big story.
Gerald Ford's (INAUDIBLE) -- Gerald Ford's historical claim will be the circumstances under which he came to the presidency, what he did to try to change the climate of the United States politically, and the fact that this was somebody who came to the presidency who never thought or aspired to it, almost unique in American public life, and all three eulogies touched on that, because that is essentially the story. It is no disrespect to the memory of the late president to say that this was a simple story that's one in fact the more aspiring parts of it, a simple, unassuming man who took the most powerful job in the world under the most unusual circumstances in the history of the country.
BLITZER: Tom DeFrank, what did you take away from the three eulogies and indeed from this entire service?
DEFRANK: Well, Wolf, it's not a coincidence that Vice President Cheney used the phrase "Time to Heal." That's the title of Gerald Ford's memoirs, and I think and I've always thought that President Ford's legacy ultimately will boil down to those four words, "A Time to Heal." I also liked Vice President Cheney's remark about President Ford never working an angle, just working. He was an ordinary guy, in the noblest sense of the phrase, "ordinary guy" and I think for the times in which we lived and struggled through, he was exactly what the country need.
BLITZER: They all paid, Bob Greene, they paid their respects to Betty Ford, and who sat there stoically, a lovely, lovely, courageous woman, joined by her family, her children, her grandchildren, great grandchildren, and friends. This was an incredible love affair as well. GREENE: Wolf, I think the indelible image of tonight and probably in the six days will be the really shattering picture of grief of Mrs. Ford. Sometimes 93 years are not enough and clearly for Mrs. Ford that's the case. President Ford told me that the saddest day of his life, the most painful day of his life was when he lost the election to Jimmy Carter because he took that as basically the country saying to him, you didn't do good enough. Now we know -- he didn't do well enough. Now we know that's not the case but at the time, that's how he took it.
He said the happiest day of his life was really a series of days and he said it was the recovery of Betty Ford from the things with which she struggled, and he understands. He understood that Betty Ford, through her courage, and for her helping so many people to look those troubles straight in the eye, may have a more lasting effect for the good in this country than some presidents of the United States, and he said the happiest time of his life was her recovery, and entering the new and wonderful era as he put it. Ninety three years may not be enough, but I think Mrs. Ford can sense the love not just for her late husband, but for her.
BLITZER: You know, it was a really wonderful, wonderful relationship that they had, through good times and bad times and there were plenty of bad times as well. Tom DeFrank, those were the years when Betty Ford hid a very serious problem that she had, and only came forward with it when, what, he was already president of the United States?
DEFRANK: That's right. Well, I mean I think there was a period of time where Mrs. Ford really didn't, maybe she was in a little bit of a denial about the severity of her problem with drugs and alcohol but she stepped up to it and she rose to the occasion and she wouldn't have been Betty Ford if she hadn't done it than.
BLITZER: And she gave a lot of inspiration to a lot of other people to overcome this serious problem. The Betty Ford Clinic, of course, out in California has done incredible work.
DEFRANK: And only in the last few months, Wolf, has Mrs. Ford finally stepped down as the driving force of the Betty Ford Clinic and turned over her duties there to her daughter, Susan, but until very recently, she has really been the centerpiece of that very admirable clinic.
BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux is our White House correspondent. She's been watching all of this together with us. The president of the United States, the first lady, they're not here, they're coming back to Washington on Monday. That was, must have been a difficult decision for them to make to avoid this part of the funeral, but of course to be on hand Tuesday at the National Cathedral, the president will be delivering one of those eulogies.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As you know, Wolf, the president is at the Crawford Ranch. We've been told that a great deal of the focus there has been the work of trying to come up with some sort of alternative plan to the war strategy in Iraq and so the president remains working there, but he will return on Monday back to Washington.
That is where he will pay his respects to Ford, as you say, who will be lying in state at the Capitol. It is on Tuesday that the president will speak at Ford's funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral. This is something that the president, the Bush administration, keeping a very close eye on, of course, offering their prayers. The president earlier today calling Ford a courageous leader, a true gentleman, a loving father and husband.
And the line we're seeing now outside the U.S. Capitol has formed. This is the line of regular Americans who are simply waiting to walk up those stairs, go into the Rotunda and pay their respects to the 38th president of the United States. Our Fredricka Whitfield is out there as well. Fred, give us a little sense of what you're seeing and hearing from these Americans.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, just moments ago we saw the motorcade, including the vehicles with the first lady, the former first lady and Congress members and senators who have been part of that special viewing inside the Capitol building go by.
Meantime, on the other side of these trees to my right, begins the line for the public viewing inside. Many of these people have no idea about the delay of being able to go inside to view the late president, because as soon as you get here you are reminded of the current state of affairs, national security still paramount, even though this is a nation in mourning.
They are met with a sign that says no electronic devices, into audio, no visual equipment, no food, no water, no nothing. So as you go through the official entrance for the public viewing, you are expected to wait in line somewhere between an hour, if you're at the head of the line, meaning an hour after the doors open, to up to six hours, so that is the kind of wait that people should be expecting when they come to try to view the late president. Viewing is expected to take place until midnight tonight but because of the delay possibly consequently because of the collapse that took place or other things that have elapsed throughout the evening, we are expected that many people here are just going to wait in line, and try their chances to see how long it will take them before they get to pay their respects to the late president.
BLITZER: I'm curious, Fred, if you have a chance maybe you can speak to one or two of those people and get a thought or two from them, why they decided to wait in line at least for an hour, maybe as long as four or five hours to do this on a Saturday night, a chilly Saturday night in Washington.
WHITFIELD: Yeah, and in ...
BLITZER: Go ahead, Fred.
WHITFIELD: And indeed, Wolf, we have spoken to a number of people and many of them are saying for various reasons, whether they were in town visiting family or friends or they were in the vicinity because of the holidays, and they wanted to pay their respects, and then we talked to some folks who came from as far away as Ohio and Michigan, President Ford's home state, who made the road trip because they felt it was important to pay homage to this president, a man that so many people remember as being just an ordinary guy, who rose to such great heights.
BLITZER: All right, Fred, we're going to come back to you. Barbara Starr is our Pentagon correspondent and the military playing clearly a significant role in all of this. Barbara, what is happening now?
BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what you are seeing now will happen every hour. This is the five-man honor guard that will change every hour in the Rotunda. But this five-man honor guard in place, they of course will stay with the president. They will stay with their former commander in chief throughout the night.
I think one of the other very small signs of the military respect was many people may not have seen it but as the party was making their way up the House steps, the Joint Chiefs of Staff as they passed by Mrs. Ford, members of the Joint Chiefs honoring her with a very quiet salute, a really extraordinary sign of their respect for Mrs. Ford, so this five-man honor guard, of course, as the public begins to pay their respect, these members of the military will stay with President Ford.
BLITZER: It's an emotional moment, a very moving moment, a tribute to a president of the United States. This does not happen, Jeff Greenfield, every day, an extraordinary event like, this the last time we saw it was with Ronald Reagan.
GREENFIELD: There have been 42 men who have been president of the United States, we count Grover Cleveland twice. Each of them has, no matter how short a time they served, has put a stamp on what has happened to the public policy of the United States, and I think there's something beyond that. I think there's something in most of us that calls us to pay that kind of respect.
There is a reason why every culture in the world has a ritual of honoring really anyone who passes, you know, who passes and particularly those who have led. It's almost a way of saying something about the underlying premise of what kind of culture we have, of what kind of respect we pay to the very fact that we're all mortal, that no matter how powerful you, you come to the same end. Whatever it is, it draws people, whether you're a powerful figure or more simple kind of president as President Ford was, Wolf.
BLITZER: Jeff, joining us on the phone now is Anne Armstrong. She served as White House counselor to Presidents Ford and Nixon and also appointed United States ambassador to Britain by president ford. What's going through your mind, ambassador, as you watch this emotional, very moving ceremony?
ANNE ARMSTRONG, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO THE U.K.: I think it would -- it really does sum him up in so many ways when they stopped at the World War II Memorial, because that was one of his great characteristics, a wonderful patriot that brought us through a very difficult period in foreign relations, as well as here, after Watergate. I think this tribute so far is what the support he deserves.
BLITZER: What is it like to work for President Ford?
ARMSTRONG: It was wonderful, and of course he was a courageous man in many ways that pardoned first of all and most important because it was the right thing to do, and he knew pretty well that this jeopardized his chances of being elected himself and then of course he was a courageous backer of women.
I mean to put me in there, not only of course was London the wonderful ally it is today but it was our outpost in the Cold War, and we had heavy military, and intelligence contingents there, and he made military opportunities. He opened them up for women. He was a great backer of women and as time went on, I began to see what a large role his own wife, he had a very happy family life, wonderful dad, wonderful husband, but his wife was quite an example of forward- looking women and she did it in a quiet and warm way that didn't frighten more traditional women, and so she brought us along with her, her outspoken talk about her own breast cancer, about addictions. She was extraordinary example herself.
BLITZER: That relationship was an incredible relationship, the love affair between Gerald Ford and Betty Ford. You saw them interact over the years. You worked for the president. Talk a little bit about that.
ARMSTRONG: Well, to me, it was a beautiful example, and their kids, too, I've gotten to know Susan a little bit. I didn't know them as well but I knew Mrs. Ford, Betty, well and I can't say enough wonderful things about her.
And she had that great gift of appealing to women across the board, and today, you saw the women, when the hearse stopped at the World War II memorial, those grateful women, they know what Mrs. Ford meant to them, as an example to her husband, and she was a uniter, too, as he was and we -- oh, we miss that today.
He had another way about him that she had, too. Gerald Ford was not a schmoozer at all, and yet he could appeal across the board because he was trustworthy. There wasn't a phony bone in that man's body. And frankly President Bush frankly has that same characteristic, no phoniness about them, but Ford was able to make friends with the Labour government in England. He had firm, firm principles, but he was open-minded, and even in many years later, just a few years ago, he received from the Kennedy Library the award for "Profiles in Courage", so he could speak across the aisle and across the water.
BLITZER: I know, ambassador, you're close, you've been close to the Fords over the years and you've also been very close to the Cheneys over the years, a lot of us remember that hunting accident that the vice president had on your ranch in Texas, not all that long ago. Were you surprised by what President Ford said before he passed to several reporters, at least to Bob Woodward, Tom DeFrank, his disappointment in Cheney and Rumsfeld, as a result of the war in Iraq?
ARMSTRONG: Well, I think we can disagree all of us in certain, on certain issues, but I doubt that he was very disappointed in their character. They remained friends, and I have disagreements, I had disagreements even with President Ford, but as long as you can respect and realize that they are doing the right as they see it, I don't think that's a problem.
Interesting thing, that accident down here, I'm here with one of my daughters tonight. I have five kids, and 13 grandkids, and one daughter who has a lot of pellets in her leg. Those things happen. It could have been terrible. Thank goodness it wasn't, and those men are friends to this day.
BLITZER: Thank goodness for that indeed. I want a final thought from you, ambassador, on this moment right now, when you heard those three eulogies from Senator Stevens, the speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, the Vice President Dick Cheney, what were you thinking?
ARMSTRONG: Well, I'm so sorry to tell you, I've tried to listen as much as I can, but I have a house full of kids and grandkids and we were out in the pastures. We live on the ranch, and they wanted to get out and I want with them and so I really didn't hear those. I'd love to. I hope we have some replays.
BLITZER: Ambassador, it's been kind of you to spend a few moments with us. Thank you so much, Ambassador Anne Armstrong, former U.S. ambassador to Britain, she served under President Ford as counselor at the White House. We're going to continue our special coverage, the state funeral, President Gerald Ford. Much more coming up after this short message. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Take a look at this. This occurred just a short while ago in Vail, Colorado, skiers paying tribute to Gerald Ford, the 38th president of the United States, President Ford had a home there near Beaver Creek, which is near Vail, and he was a popular figure in Colorado, as he was in California, near Palm Springs where he had another home, certainly popular in Michigan where he was raised and very popular here in Washington, DC.
These are skiers in Vail, Colorado, moments ago, paying tribute to Gerald Ford. Tom DeFrank is watching this together with us. He loved Vail. He loved Beaver Creek, tom. Let's talk a little bit about that.
DEFRANK: Well, he did. I had to smile, Wolf, because watching those skiers reminded me of the first trip I ever took with him in December of '73 after he was vice president, and he went to Vail, and of course, a couple of times on that particular trip he fell down, and photographers were there to take pictures of him, and the staff was very annoyed that there were pictures of the new allegedly clumsy vice president, which of course he wasn't, but he loved Vail. He loved the mountains. As a matter of fact, you'll remember -- excuse me -- that this summer, he and Mrs. Ford went off to the mountains and some around him, some of his doctors, some of his closest aides, some government officials whose names are prominently featured tonight thought it wasn't a good idea for him to go to the mountains, and he just basically said, "I'm going to live my life. I love the mountains. I love that house."
He did love that house, and he went. And we know what happened, the next thing you knew, after about three weeks out there, we to go to the Mayo Clinic for a pacemaker put in, and a couple of other stents put in his heart but -- and he never went back. That was his last trip to the mountains, but he loved that house.
You've been there, Wolf, I think, a beautiful house overlooking the ski slopes, big picture window overlooking the slopes, had an elevator in the house, and it was a beautiful place.
BLITZER: It certainly was. I remember covering a visit that former President Bill Clinton made to Vail early in the Clinton presidency, and he paid a visit over to President Ford at that house. I was in the pool at the time, the pool of reporters. I was sort of stuck outside watching what was going on, but I marveled at what a beautiful home it was, right on the slopes there, and it was a very, very impressive, an impressive site, and you could see when you saw President Ford how much he loved the outdoors, how much he loved skiing and later in California how much he of course loved golf and swimming. Bob Greene, he didn't only hang out with the famous and powerful and wealthy. He had some regular friends as well.
GREENE: Yeah, we've seen some very famous and powerful men and women tonight, but as exclusive as the club of men who have been president is, the club that meant the most to Mr. Ford is one most people have never heard of, it was called the 30-30 Club. In 1930, he was the captain of his high school football team in Grand Rapids, and on Thanksgiving Day, they won the state championship. There were 30 varsity lettermen, so 30 lettermen, 1930, the 30-30 Club.
Every Thanksgiving Day from that point on, they would meet in Grand Rapids, the football teammates. In the winter of 1974, when the country was in such anguish, and Mr. Ford was in the White House, trying to sort of make his own way and figure this out, he decided to have the meeting of the 30-30 Club in the White House, that Thanksgiving Day. So for his first Thanksgiving in the White House, his high school football teammates, the ones who were still surviving, joined him in the White House, because he wanted around him people he loved and trusted, and I asked him, what would make him feel worse, an editorial in the "New York Times" or "The Washington Post" criticizing him or criticism from a member of the 30-30 club? And he said if I ever did anything to cut that friendship, I'd be a bad guy. I was the captain of that football team.
BLITZER: It's an amazing story. He loved those guys on his football team, and certainly loved all of his friends growing up in Michigan. It was not necessarily all that easy growing up for him, and his mother, because life did not necessarily start all that well, Bob, for him.
GREENE: Right, and as Vice President Cheney said and what I thought was a lovely eulogy, what President Ford determined after this abandonment as a young boy, was in life you make your own luck, but it's also known that he asked the country to pray for him when he became president. He said, "You did not elect me with your votes. Please confirm me with your prayers."
His first night in the White House, he and Mrs. Ford said the prayer he has said every night since he was a young boy, without bearing it in times of great need or times of great triumph, it's Proverbs Chapter 3 and that first night and every night after, President Ford said "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, lean not on thine own understanding, in all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths." So in life you make your own luck but he had somewhere else to reach for also.
BLITZER: A very powerful, powerful life indeed that he had with all of his experiences. Jeff Greenfield, sort of wrap up this moment, because it's not over by any means. Americans will walk through the Rotunda, pay their respects, until Tuesday morning, when the casket will be moved to the National Cathedral.
GREENFIELD: There will be a service at the National Cathedral and President Bush will be one of the people eulogizing him and yet, Wolf it's very clear the whole event has a feel different than the last one, than the Ronald Reagan funeral. It is the difference between someone who dramatically overshadowed the political landscape, changed it dramatically, instilled enormous affection and enormous opposition and a man who came to the presidency through this really unique route, governed for two and a half years, almost made it back from one of the largest deficits, lost the White House and then went on to 30 years of a fulfilling, affluent, comfortable life, small town kid from Grand Rapids with a home in California and a home in Colorado, really enjoying the fruits of a very successful life. It is a kind of an American story that perhaps it could happen somewhere else, but for someone to reach the heights without ever wanting to, and then achieving 30 years of a good life, I'd say this is a cause more for celebration than mourning.
BLITZER: And I can only echo what so many others, Jeff, have said as someone who has covered politicians for a long time myself, and every encounter I had with Gerald Ford, he was always, always a gentleman, someone we will all miss.
We're going to have much more on America's remembrance of President Gerald Ford. Tomorrow on our LATE EDITION, I'll be speaking with Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Democratic senator, actually independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, that airs at 11:00 a.m. Eastern, 8:00 a.m. Pacific on LATE EDITION, tomorrow, a special LATE EDITION, live, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, LATE EDITION, the last word in Sunday talk. LARRY KING LIVE is coming up in a few minutes with his special edition, Gerald Ford in his own words, that's at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, four or three minutes from now right here on CNN.
But first we look back at some of the more memorable moments of this day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(MUSIC, "HAIL TO THE CHIEF")
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Halt, center.
REP. DENNIS HASTERT, (D) OUTGOING SPEAKER: On the way here, we paused the door to the House of Representatives, and in that place, the people's House, where Gerald Ford served for a quarter of a century. He was known simply as "The gentleman from Michigan." And while all members are afforded this courtesy, in the case of Gerald Ford, "gentleman" was much more a description of the man himself.
RICHARD CHENEY, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: He was modest and manful. There was confidence and courage in his bearing. In judgment, he was sober and serious, unafraid of decisions, calm and steady by nature, always the still point in the turning wheel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The funeral of Gerald Ford, here in the Nation's Capital. I'm Wolf Blitzer along with Jeff Greenfield. We'll be back here in THE SITUATION ROOM Tuesday morning, to continue our special coverage of President Ford's state funeral as the National Cathedral in Washington. That coverage starts 9:00 a.m. Eastern. Thanks very much for joining us. Up next, LARRY KING LIVE.
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