During the service a marine band played the hymn O God Our Help in Ages Past and a sailor honoured Ford's naval service by carrying an ebony staff flying the presidential seal.


The private family service was followed by a visitation for invited friends including George Shultz, the former secretary of state, Jack Kemp, a former congressman, and a former California governor, Pete Wilson. When it ended, Ford's widow left in a motorcade headed back to the Ford home in the neighbouring city of Rancho Mirage.


Later, Ford's widow will board a Boeing 747 and accompany her husband's body across the nation for two services in Washington, DC, and his burial in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on January 3.


Ford died on Tuesday at the age of 93. He became president when Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 amid the Watergate scandal, but was defeated by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election.


He was a Republican congressman from Michigan when Nixon named him vice-president after Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973.