PALM DESERT, Calif. — Thousands of well-wishers from seniors to toddlers waved, offered crisp salutes or held their hands over their hearts in a sometimes tearful tribute to Betty Ford, as a motorcade carrying her body zigzagged from a California desert church to Palm Springs airport for her final flight home to Michigan.
The black Cadillac hearse was escorted by nearly a dozen California Highway Patrol cars and other vehicles during the 25-minute trip to the airport, where Ford’s mahogany casket, covered in flowers, was placed aboard an Air Force jet sometimes used by Vice President Joe Biden.
Shortly after 10 a.m. the plane, also carrying Ford’s family, departed for Grand Rapids, Mich., and landed about 5 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time where the former first lady was to be laid to rest Thursday next to her late husband President Gerald R. Ford at his presidential museum.
During the trip to the airport, which took the hearse 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 motorcade left from St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, where 800 people, including former President George W. Bush and first lady Michelle Obama had gathered Tuesday for a memorial service.
After another memorial Thursday in Grand Rapids, Ford is to be buried at her husband’s presidential museum. Gerald Ford died in 2006.
Following Tuesday’s service, the public was invited into the church to pay respects to Ford, and thousands dropped by.
“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."