GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Betty Ford returned Wednesday to the city where she grew up and wed the man who became the only president from Michigan, prompting hundreds to line the streets in front of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum as her casket arrived for a memorial service.
The service was followed by a public viewing at the museum, where Ford's flower-draped casket laid, surrounded by an honor guard and with a softly lit presidential seal overhead. At least 300 mourners had paid their respects Wednesday evening halfway through the four-hour viewing, which followed a similar, and sometimes tearful, send-off by thousands of well-wishers in California earlier in the day.
After another memorial service Thursday in Grand Rapids, Ford is to be buried next to her husband on the grounds of his presidential museum. Gerald Ford died in 2006.
Ninety-five-year-old Edna Jungers of Stillwater, Okla., and her 78-year-old niece, Yvonne Locker, drove from Locker's summer home in Milwaukee to greet the casket as it arrived at the museum from the Gerald R. Ford International Airport. They then joined hundreds of other mourners who slowly walked by Ford's mahogany casket covered in pink and white flowers.
"It's wonderful to give her that much honor. She was worthy of it," Jungers said.
On the way out, those paying their respects were handed a card with a photo of Ford and a note of appreciation from the Ford family. A Ford granddaughter, 30-year-old Tyne Vance, shook hands with those leaving.
"Thank you for coming," she said to each one.
A private ceremony attended by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and other dignitaries was held at the museum prior to the public viewing. On Tuesday, a service at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, Calif., was attended by 800 people, including former President George W. Bush and first lady Michelle Obama.
Steve Avink of nearby Jenison had watched the ceremonies when Gerald Ford's casket returned to Grand Rapids for burial in January 2007 and was at the airport Wednesday when Betty Ford's casket arrived from California.
Like hundreds of others in Michigan, Avink wanted to pay his respects. He praised Betty Ford's "openness about drugs and addiction."
Wednesday crowd wasn't as large as when Gerald Ford's funeral and memorial services were held over two icy winter days four years ago. But Betty Ford, who gave dance lessons in Grand Rapids and worked at a local department store before marrying Gerald Ford, was remembered fondly by those who came to pay homage.
"She really reached out to all the people who struggled . . . with drug and alcohol addiction," said John Patrick Jr., a 38-year-old Grand Rapids resident who works with dialysis patients and sees the ravages alcoholism can wreak. "She was very gracious."
Thousands of people have signed condolence books in Grand Rapids for Ford since Saturday.
In California, the hearse carrying Ford's body drove through Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage and other desert resort cities, people lined the streets and hoisted American flags to say goodbye to the beloved former first lady, who died Friday at age 93. Some wiped tears from their eyes.
"The family was overwhelmed with the number of people," family spokeswoman Barbara Lewandrowski said. "They are so heartfelt and grateful."
Thousands more turned out for Wednesday's motorcade, including people who sat along the route in beach chairs, some shirtless in the warm, sunny weather.
A dozen senior citizens seated in wheelchairs held up a sign reading "Monterey Palms Healthcare" as the hearse passed by. In front of Rancho Mirage Fire Station No. 1, firefighters stood outside, with emergency lights blinking on their vehicles.
A woman on a golf course stopped her cart and held her hand over her heart, while people nearby shouted "Thank you, Betty." Many clapped and stood at attention.
During Tuesday's service, former first lady Rosalynn Carter and journalist Cokie Roberts, among others, hailed Ford as a force of nature whose boundless energy and enthusiasm, coupled with a steadfast determination to do what was right, pushed the country toward a commitment to equal rights for women and other causes.
Ford, the accidental first lady, was thrust into the White House when Richard Nixon resigned as president on Aug. 9, 1974, and her husband, then vice president, assumed the nation's highest office. Although she always said she never expected nor wanted to be first lady, she quickly embraced the role.
Her candidness, unheard of at the time, helped bring such previously taboo subjects as breast cancer into the public discussion as she openly discussed her own battle with the disease. She was equally outspoken about her struggles with drug and alcohol abuse, and her spearheading of the creation of the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage to treat those diseases has benefited thousands.
"Millions of women are in her debt today and she was never afraid to speak the truth even about the most sensitive subjects, including her own struggle with alcohol and pain killers," Carter said. "She got some criticism, but I thought she was wonderful and her honesty gave to others every single day."
Behind the scenes she was also aggressive and effective, said Roberts, who noted that Ford's late husband confided to her privately that his wife badgered him relentlessly into stronger public support of equal rights for women.
The former first lady mapped out plans for her funeral well in advance, including who would deliver her eulogies, and Roberts said she told her to be sure to let people know that politics does not have to as acrimonious as it is today.
Other mourners who packed the church included former California first lady Maria Shriver, former California Gov. Pete Wilson and Ford's four children. Former first lady Barbara Bush is expected to attend Thursday's service in Michigan.
Associated Press writers Jeff Wilson contributed to this report from Palm Springs, Calif. and John Rogers reported from Los Angeles.