PALM DESERT, Calif. (AP) - The formal mourning of Gerald R. Ford begins with a public viewing at a church pulpit just feet from where he and his wife sat every Sunday after their White House years — "The President's Pew."
Ford's family was to have a private prayer service at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church on Friday before the start of a public viewing expected to draw thousands of people to the desert resort town 110 miles east of Los Angeles.
Former first lady Betty Ford, 88, and her four grown children were to receive his casket from a military honor guard at the church, where the couple began worshipping in 1977. Former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, among others, joined the Fords there over the years.
Mrs. Ford will then accompany her husband's body across the nation for a series of ceremonies that includes two funeral services in Washington, D.C., and another in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he will be entombed Wednesday.
Ford died Tuesday at age 93 with his family at his bedside.
He assumed the presidency when Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 amid the Watergate scandal, but was defeated by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election. The Fords began attending St. Margaret's after retiring to Rancho Mirage.
Tight security was planned at the church, with the entire campus locked down for Secret Service sweeps and surrounding residential streets blocked off. In a nod to Ford's Navy service, a sailor was deputized to fly the presidential seal from an ebony staff as Ford's casket is taken from the hearse.
People hoping to pay their respects to the nation's 38th president during the public repose will be shuttled to the church from a tennis center several miles away, and will not be allowed to bring personal items including cameras, cell phones, purses or flowers with them.
After arriving at Andrews Air Force Base on Saturday, the coffin will be taken to the Capitol in a funeral procession, then carried up the steps of the East Front of the House by a military escort.
It will then lie in repose in front of the House chamber and be carried into the Rotunda for a ceremony and public viewing before being moved to the National Cathedral on Tuesday for funeral services there.
Some of the most regal touches of a full state funeral are being bypassed, by request of his family and, most likely, according to Ford's own wishes.
In Washington, a hearse rather than a horsedrawn caisson will drive Ford's casket to the Capitol. Fighter jets will do a flyover with a "missing man" maneuver only in Grand Rapids, where Ford will be interred on a hillside north of his presidential museum. He spent most of his childhood and practiced law in the city before representing the area in Congress for 25 years.
Associated Press writers Jeff Wilson in Rancho Mirage, Calif., and Calvin Woodward and Laurie Kellman in Washington contributed to this report.
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