SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — Nancy Reagan began her final journey to her husband’s side Wednesday as a police motorcade carried her casket down an empty freeway lined with saluting firefighters and mourners holding hands over their hearts in tribute to the former first lady.

The roadside reverence reflected her late husband’s touch with the common man and followed some of the route his own funeral procession took in 2004, eventually winding its way up to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, where volunteers in blue jackets stood behind a guardrail festooned with small American flags.

The day began with a private ceremony for family and close friends at a funeral home in Santa Monica, followed by a public viewing at the library.

People came from near and far to pay tribute to the widow of the 40th president, who was respected for her grace, strength and unfailing loyalty to her husband during this two terms in office and his final struggles with Alzheimer’s disease.

Retired teacher Mary Ellen Gruendyke, who arose early so she could drive nearly 100 miles from her Riverside home, said she admired Mrs. Reagan for her “Just Say No” campaign against drugs and the president for infusing a sense of patriotism in the country.

“Ronald Reagan was one of the best presidents we’ve ever had, and I admired them both as a couple for their love story and the support they showed to each other,” said Gruendyke, who wore a colorful Ronald Reagan souvenir scarf around her neck.

Shuttles bused groups of mourners to take turns walking quietly in a circle around the casket covered in white roses and peonies – Mrs. Reagan’s favorite flower.

The mood was somber, and many people wiped away tears. More than 1,000 people paid their respects in the first two hours, according to the library.