GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP/WOOD) - Military pallbearers on Thursday carried Betty Ford's rose-covered casket into the church where she and her husband were married more than 60 years ago for a final memorial service to remember the former first lady.
The dancer who won the heart of both Jerry Ford and millions around the world, was laid to rest on the day her husband would have turned 98. She died July 8 at the age of 93.
Steven Ford described for mourners the family's bond, referring to them as a naval fleet.
"Dad was the aircraft carrier. I know that," he said. "If Mom was in our fleet, which she was, she was the hospital ship. She was the one there with the love and the comfort."
"She just knew how to love," he added. "We felt her love long before her spotlight came ... And then the world got to see her love."
Lynne Cheney, wife of former Vice President Dick Cheney, said the mere mention of Ford's name "brings good and hopeful things to mind."
"She spoke of living a page of history," Cheney said. "And Betty Ford filled that page, and she filled it with ... class and courage."
Gerald Ford's legacy "is a time of healing," she added. Betty Ford's "is a place of healing. They walked together so long, and they lived in a faith that promised reunion."
At Grace Episcopal Church, former first lady Barbara Bush, former President Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney, who was President Ford's chief of staff, sat in a pew a row ahead of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and his wife.
Other dignitaries at the funeral service were Rep. Justin Amash and his wife, Rep. Bill Huizenga and his wife, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his wife, Joyce, Fred and Lena Meijer, Bob and Judy Hooker, Marty and Sue Allen, Peter and Joan Secchia, Rich and Helen DeVos, Doug and Maria DeVos and Steve and Cindy Van Andel.
Hundreds of mourners stood outside the church, a sand-colored brick structure in a residential neighborhood that also hosted a memorial for Gerald Ford following his death in 2006.
"She was the kind of woman we all would aspire to be," said Karen Mouw of Grand Rapids. "She stayed true to herself. When she had her own issues with addiction, she faced them. She was open about them. I think that's the biggest thing that inspired me. If you have an obstacle you face it, and you do the best you can and help other people if you can."
Hundreds of people standing behind barricades stood hushed as a nine-member military guard carried Ford's casket while softly counting out military cadence.
Sharon Schoenfeld of Plymouth, Wis., interrupted a camping trip to come to the church. "Ten years ago, I had breast cancer, and I remember when she had breast cancer and kind of made everything public about it. I always thought she was a neat lady."
A group of 10 young children, seated on blankets and surrounded by miniature U.S. flags on a front yard across from the church, chanted "We love Mrs. Ford" as photographers took their picture. A girl walked past with a red and white "President Ford '76" sign.
Thursday's final service followed a public viewing that spanned two days. Before the viewing, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and other dignitaries attended a smaller service Wednesday with the Ford family. Ford's casket arrived at Gerald R. Ford International Airport after a larger service in Palm Desert, Calif., that drew 800 people, including former President George W. Bush and first lady Michelle Obama.
The crowds gathered Wednesday and Thursday in Michigan were smaller than those at Gerald Ford's services in January 2007. But Betty Ford was remembered fondly for giving dance lessons in Grand Rapids and working as a fashion coordinator and clothing buyer at the local Herpolscheimer's department store before marrying.
"She was just one of us," said Mary Thomson, a floral shop owner from Grand Rapids. "She was a great person and inspired my generation."
Ford, the accidental first lady, was thrust into the White House when Richard Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974, and her husband, then vice president, assumed the nation's highest office. Although she said she never wished to be first lady, she quickly embraced the role.
Her personal candor, unheard of in the 1970s, helped bring such previously taboo subjects as breast cancer into the public discussion. She openly discussed her battle with the disease and was equally outspoken about her struggles with drug and alcohol abuse. After leaving the White House, she spearheaded creation of the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif., where thousands of people have received treatment.
24 Hour News 8 contributed to this report.