PALM DESERT, Calif (Reuters) - Betty Ford was remembered at a memorial service in California on Tuesday as a mother, first lady, friend and “tireless advocate for those struggling.”
Mourners at the service for Ford at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert included first lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Ford, wife of late President Gerald Ford who helped found a rehabilitation clinic that bears her name, died on Friday at the age of 93.
“Betty Ford was my friend and I’m honored to be here today help celebrate her life, which was truly remarkable,” former first lady Rosalynn Carter said in eulogizing her White House predecessor.
Carter recalled Ford as a woman who was never afraid to speak the truth and had the courage to fight the stigma surrounding illness and addiction.
“She was a tireless advocate for those struggling,” Carter said.
Geoffrey Mason, a former board member of the Betty Ford Clinic in nearby Rancho Mirage, followed Carter to the podium.
“Thank you God for bringing this extraordinary woman, this brave and inspirational pioneer, into our lives,” Mason said.
The service began as a military honor guard carried Ford’s dark wood casket into the sand-colored church, tucked into the desert foothills and surrounded by palm trees.
The dignitaries, including Obama, Clinton, Bush and former first lady Nancy Reagan, sat shoulder to shoulder in a pew near the front of the church.
The memorial service was preceded by a visitation for close friends and family members, which was closed to the public.
The public was offered an opportunity to view the casket from 5 p.m. local time until midnight at the church.
Ford’s remains will depart on Wednesday for Grand Rapids, Michigan, where it will again lie in repose.
A final private ceremony will occur at the Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids at 2 p.m. local time on Thursday.
Ford’s body will be interred next to her husband’s at the Gerald R. Ford Museum.
Ford, once dubbed the “fighting first lady” by Time magazine for her outspoken political views, was a vocal supporter of women’s rights while her husband was president from 1974 to 1977.
She also led early efforts to raise awareness of the battle against breast cancer after undergoing a mastectomy in 1974, less than two months after her husband succeeded the disgraced Richard Nixon as president.
Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Jerry Norton