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First families honor Ford

The Associated Press . From top left, former President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, first lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Rosalynn Carter watch as members of the armed forces carry the coffin bearing the body of former first lady Betty Ford into St. Margaret's Episcopal Church on Tuesday in Palm Desert, Calif.

The Associated Press . From top left, former President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, first lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Rosalynn Carter watch as members of the armed forces carry the coffin bearing the body of former first lady Betty Ford into St. Margaret's Episcopal Church on Tuesday in Palm Desert, Calif.

PALM DESERT, Calif. -- First ladies, past and present, and others who called the White House home remembered Betty Ford on Tuesday, not just for her decades-long work against substance abuse but for contributing to a political era when friendship among lawmakers helped them govern.

First lady Michelle Obama, accompanied by former first ladies Rosalynn Carter and Hillary Rodham Clinton, strode quietly into St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in this desert resort town and took their seats next to former President George W. Bush in one of the first-row pews as services began.

Ford, who died at the age of 93 on Friday, had mapped out plans for the ceremony well in advance, including who would deliver her eulogies.

She chose Carter and journalist Cokie Roberts, as well as Geoffrey Mason, a former director of the Betty Ford Center for substance abuse and alcohol treatment. The center, whose creation was inspired by Ford's own battles with drugs and alcohol, has helped thousands and will live on as her legacy.

Other mourners who packed the large church included former California first lady Maria Shriver and Ford's four children.

Bush, accompanied by former first lady Nancy Reagan, arrived just a few minutes ahead of Mrs. Obama and the others. The former president, wearing a dark suit, blue tie and white shirt, chatted quietly with Reagan as they waited for the services to begin. He greeted Clinton as the secretary of state and former first lady took a seat next to him.

Others expected to attend included President Richard Nixon's daughters, Tricia Nixon-Cox and Julie Nixon Eisenhower; President Lyndon Johnson's daughters, Lucie Baines Johnson and Lynda Bird Johnson Robb; and Robb's husband, former U.S. Sen. Charles Robb.

Following the funeral, members of the public were invited to file past the casket and sign a guest book until midnight.

A second funeral will be held Thursday in Grand Rapids, Mich., where Gerald Ford was buried at his presidential museum. Former first lady Barbara Bush is expected to attend that event.

California Highway Patrol motorcycles and squad cars escorted Ford's hearse and her family members to Tuesday's service in four black sedans and six SUVS. The hearse pulled up to the church's side entrance, and the casket was carried inside, followed by about two dozen mourners, including family members.

Other mourners arrived later by the busload, after the family was given private time inside the church. Family spokeswoman Barbara Lewandrowski said family members had also gathered over the weekend to reflect on Ford's life.

''They are reading emails and telling stories, enjoying each other's fellowship,'' she said.