DETROIT >> William Clay Ford, owner of the NFL Detroit Lions and last surviving grandson of Henry Ford, died Sunday of pneumonia. He was 88.
“My father was a great business leader and humanitarian who dedicated his life to the company and the community,” said Bill Ford Jr., one of Ford’s four children and executive chairman of Ford Motor Co. and vice chairman of the Lions. “He also was a wonderful family man, a loving husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. He will be greatly missed by everyone who knew him, yet he will continue to inspire us all.”
The youngest of Edsel Ford’s four children was born in 1925, and married Martha Firestone, granddaughter of Harvey Firestone and Idabelle Smith Firestone on 1947, bringing together two great automotive legacies. The couple had four children: Martha, Sheila, Elizabeth and William Clay Ford Jr., better known as Bill.
Ford retired from the automaker’s board in 2005, when his son Bill was still chairman and chief executive of the automaker.
Ford was a philanthropist and community leader.
He was chairman of the board of trustees of the Henry Ford Museum from 1951 to 1983, after which he was named chairman emeritus. Mr. Ford served as a director of the Detroit Economic Club, was an honorary life trustee of the Eisenhower Medical Center and a national trustee for the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs of America. He also was an honorary chair of the United Way for Southeastern Michigan and served on the Texas Heart Institute National Advisory Council.
In 1996, Henry Ford Hospital opened rhe William Clay Ford Center for Athletic Medicine, a leading sports medicine treatment and research institution. In 1997, the outdoor courts of the University of Michigan’s new tennis center also were named in his honor. The largest donor in history at the Henry Ford Museum, the Great Hall of the museum – The William Clay Ford Hall of American Innovation – also was named in recognition of his support.
William Clay Ford spent 57 years of his life working for the automaker, more than half the company’s 110-year history.
He was elected to the board of directors on June 4, 1948 after serving with the U.S. Navy Air Corps during World War II.
After graduating from Yale University in 1949, he began working for the family business.
He held a number of executive positions leading to his appointment as vice president and general manager of the Continental Division in 1954, where he updated the car his father created and oversaw the launch of the classic Continental Mark II in 1955.
It is said there were only two pictures on the wall in his office at Ford headquarters: his father’s Continental and the new Mark II. In 1956, he took over corporate product planning and design, becoming vice president of product design in 1973.
When the Design Committee was formed in 1957, Ford became its first chairman and he kept that post until he retired from the company in 1989.
In 1978, Ford was elected chairman of the Executive Committee and appointed a member of the Office of the Chief Executive. He was elected vice chairman of the Board in 1980 and chairman of the Finance Committee in 1987. He retired from his post as vice chairman in 1989 and as chairman of the Finance Committee in 1995.
Carl Reichardt, the longest-serving board member at the time, said the retiring director “made innumerable contributions to the company and its shareholders during his 57 years.”
Ford saw his retirement as a chance to spend more time with his extended Ford family and his other true passion: the Lions, which he purchased in 1963.