William Clay Ford Sr., the last surviving grandson of Henry Ford, has died.
Ford, 88, died Sunday morning of pneumonia, at his Grosse Pointe Shores home, jsut six days short of his 89th birthday.
“My father was great business leader and humanitarian who dedicted his life to the company and the community,” said Bill Ford Jr., one of Ford’s four children and the executive chairman of the automaker and vice chairman of the Detroit Lions, which Ford owned, he Detroit Free Press reports.
“He also was a wonderful family man, a loving husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather,” Ford said “He will be greatly missed by everyone who knew him, yet he will continue to inspire us.”
Ford helped usher the automaker into a modern design era and had a “profound impact” on the company, said Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally.
Ford worked as an executive for the automaker, but his brother, Henry II, took over the family business.
His greatest legacy may have been as the owner of the Detroit Lions, which he bought on Nov. 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, for $4.5 million, the Detroit New said. The team he ran for 50 years is now worth more than $900 million, according to Forbes magazine.
Only one other NFL owner has owned a team longer – the Buffalo Bills’ Ralph Wilson.
“No owner loved his team more than Mr. Ford loved the Lions,” franchise president Tom Lewand said in a statement. “Those of us who had the opportunity to work for Mr. Ford knew of his unyielding passion for his family, the Lions and the city of Detroit. His leadership, integrity, kindness, humanity and good humor were matched only by his desire to bring a Super Bowl championship to the Lions and to our community.”
The Lions have never won the coveted Super Bowl ring, but Ford did convince the NFL to bring the Super Bowl to Detroit in 2006 to Ford Field, the stadium he built in 2002 that was one of the cornerstones of Detroit’s redevelopment.
Ford had caused quite a dust-up in the 1970s when he moved the Lions to the Pontiac Silverdome. The Lions’ return to Detroit in 2002 was “definitely … a major building block for improving the quality of life for residents and visitors,” said Detroit Economic Development Corp. CEO George Jackson. “It brings people to town.”
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Ford has been one of the city’s greatest supporters an cheerleaders.
“Not only was Mr. Ford a titan in our business community, he has been one of Detroit’s greatest supporters and philanthropists,” Duggan said.
Gov. Rick Snyder also paid tribute to Ford.
“The Fords are among Michigan’s iconic, founding families, and he was an innovator in the family tradition as well as s strong leader,” Snyder said. “Like his grandfather, he was passionate about automobiles and the auto industry, the city of Detroit and his family.”
Humanitarian and Philanthropist
Ford’s record of philanthropy includes support for the Henry Ford Museum Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs of America, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, the Eisenhower Medical Center, and the Texas Heart Institute National Advisory Council.
His passion for the Lions carried over to Henry Ford Health Center, which opened the William Clay Ford Center for Athletic Medicine, a leading sport medicine treatment and research institute, in 1996. he Great Hall of the Henry Ford Museum, the William Clay Ford Hall of American Innovation, also recognizes his support.
“He was just a great human being,” Dr. Scott Dulchavsky, Ford’s personal physician for the last 10 years, and CEO of the Henry Ford Innovation Institute and chairman of surgery at the hospital, told the Free Press.
Dulchavsky recalled his friend telling stories about growing up with his grandfather, the trips they took and meetings they had with Thomas Edison “as that as if it was every day for all of us.”
“They were wonderful, amazing museum quality stories that I will always miss,” Dulchavsky said.
Ford Put His Mark on the Continental Mark II
Ford retired from the automaker’s board of directors in 2005, “a bittersweet moment for me and everyone who loves the Ford Motor Co.,” said his son, William Clay "Bill" Ford, Jr., the company’s executive chairman.
“I speak frequently about the family values that define our company’s culture,” the younger Ford said. “But in doing so, I am simply echoing everything my father taught me about the importance of embracing principles, setting high standards of behavior and acting responsibly toward the people with whom we work, the customers we see and the world in which we live.
“My dad helped lead Ford into the modern era and make us who we are,” Bill Ford said when his father announced his plans to retire. “His institutional knowledge is an incredible asset and his love for the company is unmatched.”
Ford spent nearly six decades working for the company and headed the team that helped oversee the design of the Continental Mark II, the successor to the Lincoln Continental that was developed under the direction of his father, Edsel Ford.
He fought hard to keep the trademark of the Continental in the Mark II, considered by some to be the greatest car ever built. “I wanted the spare tire in the back,” he said, according to a story in the Detroit News. “That was the trademark of a Continental.” 1
Ford was the youngest of Edsel Ford’s four children and was born in 1925. He married into another automotive legacy family when he and Martha Firestone, the granddaughter of tire-maker Harvey Firestone and Idabelle Smith Firestone, were married in 1947. They had four children: Martha, Sheila, Elizabeth and Bill.
The family plans a private memorial service. Those wishing to make memorial contributions should send them to the Henry Ford Museum, 20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn, MI, 48124; or to Dr. Scott Dulchavsky’s Innovation Institute at Henry Ford Health System at 2799 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit, MI, 48045.