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Nancy Reagan, Clintons, Bush to attend Betty Ford memorial

July 11, 2011 |  6:40 pm

Betty Ford

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

Former presidents and first ladies will be descending on the California city of Palm Desert on Tuesday to say their final farewells to former First Lady Betty Ford.

Along with current First Lady Michelle Obama, former first ladies Hillary Clinton, Nancy Reagan and Rosalynn Carter will attend the service at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church. Clinton, now secretary of State, will attend with her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Former President George W. Bush also will attend, although his wife will not.

PHOTOS: Life of former First Lady Betty Ford

Tuesday’s memorial will begin with a private family service in the late morning, followed by a second service for dignitaries and invited guests at 2 p.m. The Ford family has invited the public to pay their respects at the church from 5 p.m. to midnight.

Ford’s longtime florist, John Ballow of J. Ballow Signature Florist in Rancho Mirage, has been inundated with orders called in from around the globe, including from a Saudi prince, Bob Hope’s wife and others “I’m not allowed to disclose right now.” Ballow knew Ford for more than 30 years, providing arrangements for the opening of the Betty Ford Center as well as for friends and family on special occasions.

“The thing you got from her, from the instant you met her, was that she was very hands-on and

unpretentious,’’ said Ballow. “She was a classy lady. Even if you disappointed her, you never would have known.’’

On Mother’s Day, Ballow sent Ford a bouquet of bluebird roses and peach-colored Sonia roses, the last arrangement he made for her. He said that after the death of her husband, former President Gerald Ford, in 2006, the former first lady lost some of the cheery optimism that had so defined her during the couple's three decades in the Coachella Valley.

“I sensed the light kind of went out,’’ he said.

Ford, 93, died of natural causes Friday afternoon, surrounded by family, at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage. She had been hospitalized after a brief illness.

As the wife of the nation’s 38th president, who took office during the turmoil of President Nixon’s resignation in 1974, Betty Ford became an outspoken advocate on issues including women’s rights and healthcare.

She founded the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage for chemical and alcohol dependencies after overcoming her own addiction to painkillers, and she is largely credited for helping erase the stigma of receiving treatment for addiction.

June Trubee, who with her husband owns what was one of the Fords’ favorite dinner spots, said the former first lady was both an inspiration and down-to-earth member of the community. Ford never hesitated to help with local causes.

“She was just so gracious, so kind,’’ said Trubee,

The Fords visited her restaurant, Jillians Fine Dining in Palm Desert, several times a month in the 1990s, less so in more recent years. “They just were endearing to us, our children, the staff. They were just people among people.’’

When Trubee sought help at the Betty Ford Center several years ago, the former first lady reached out her to and took a personal interest in her recovery, Trubee said.

On Tuesday, eulogies will be given by Rosalynn Carter, who becamse a close friend of Ford after their White House years; news commentator Cokie Roberts; and Geoffrey Mason, director of the Betty Ford Center.

Preparations in Palm Desert are underway, and security is tight. Beginning at 3 a.m. Tuesday, Highway 74 will be closed from Mesa View to Shadow Mountain until Wednesday at 1 a.m. Observers also can expect triple-digit temperatures.

On Wednesday, the first lady’s remains will be flown from Palm Springs International Airport to Grand Rapids, Mich., and then taken to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, where she will lie in repose starting that evening.

A private memorial will be held at Grace Episcopal Church, and shortly thereafter the family will return to the museum for a private interment. Eulogies at that memorial will be delivered by Lynne Cheney, wife of former Vice President Dick Cheney, and presidential historian Richard Norton Smith.

For the record, 10:14 p.m. July 11: An earlier version of this post stated that Highway 111 would be closed.


Photos: Life of former First Lady Betty Ford

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Photo: Betty and Gerald Ford with June Trubee