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Pastor: Family Gathered Near Dying Ford

With their father's health failing, all four of Gerald and Betty Ford's children made a pilgrimage to their parents' home in the California desert to say goodbye, Ford's pastor said.
( [email protected] ) Dec 29, 2006 10:52 AM EST

PALM DESERT, Calif. (AP) - With their father's health failing, all four of Gerald and Betty Ford's children made a pilgrimage to their parents' home in the California desert to say goodbye, Ford's pastor said.

While the family has kept the former president's final days private, his pastor at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, Rev. Robert Certain, shared some details Thursday.

Betty, Gerald Ford's wife of 58 years, and the couple's three sons — Michael, John and Steven — were at his bedside when he died Tuesday at age 93, Certain said. The couple's daughter, Susan, had returned to Albuquerque, N.M., the day before Christmas to spend the holiday with her family.

"I think he deliberately held on until Christmas was over," said Certain, who said he last saw him Dec. 16 when he went to the Fords' Rancho Mirage home for a Communion service. "He didn't want to spoil anyone's holiday."

The former president, though too weak to stand, was alert and participated in the brief rite, which included a formal prayer for the sick, Certain said. He said he was not present when Ford died.

Ford's son Michael, an Evangelical minister, performed last rites at his deathbed, Certain said.

Ford struggled this year with a series of health problems that included pneumonia in January and two heart procedures in August, including an angioplasty and a pacemaker implant.

"I think both the president and Mrs. Ford were quite clear that his time was drawing near, though you can't ever put an exact date on someone's passing," Certain said.

The family has remained silent since Ford's death, aside from brief statements issued by his widow announcing his death and thanking the public for their condolences. The cause of his death has not been released.

Certain, who spent Wednesday at the Ford home, said the family was in seclusion with close friends ahead of the public memorial events scheduled to begin Friday in California before official funeral services in Washington and Grand Rapids, Mich.

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