Ford Motor Company and the Detroit Lions confirmed Sunday that team owner and chairman William Clay Ford, Senior, died in the morning from pneumonia.
Ford, 88, served as Director Emeritus of the Ford Motor Company and was the last surviving grandchild of the company’s founder, Henry Ford. He worked for the company for 57 years as an employee and board member, and held the position of chairman of the Design Committee for 32 years.
In 1978, Mr. 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. He retired from the board and was named Director Emeritus on May 12, 2005.
He became president of the Detroit Lions in 1961 and purchased the team in November of 1963.
"It is with profound sadness that we mourn the loss of Mr. Ford and extend our deepest sympathies to Mrs. Ford and to the entire Ford family," Lions President Tom Lewand said. "No owner loved his team more than Mr. Ford loved the Lions."
Detroit won a playoff game over the Dallas Cowboys in 1991, and made 10 playoff appearances during his tenure.
In 2002, Mr. Ford brought the Lions back to Detroit when the team moved into Ford Field, a new stadium located in the heart of the city’s sports and entertainment district. The $500 million stadium became the overwhelming factor in Detroit being awarded the right to host Super Bowl XL in February 2006. The championship game provided a $260 million boost to metro Detroit and served as a symbol of the Ford family’s dedication to supporting the city.
"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," Lewand said. "His leadership, integrity, kindness, humility and good humor were matched only by his desire to bring a Super Bowl championship to the Lions and to our community. Each of us in the organization will continue to relentlessly pursue that goal in his honor."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell talked about Ford's contribution to the league during his time as an owner.
"For five decades, Mr. Ford's passion for the Lions, Detroit, and the NFL was the foundation of one of the NFL’s historic franchises," Goodell said. "As an NFL owner, Mr. Ford helped bring the NFL through enormous periods of change and growth, always guided by his commitment to what was best for the NFL and his beloved Lions. All of us in the NFL extend our heartfelt sympathy to Mr. Ford's wife Martha, Bill Ford, Jr. and the entire Ford family."
Ford received a Bachelor of Science from Yale University in 1949. He had four children, Martha, Sheila, Elizabeth, and Lions Vice Chairman William Jr., with his wife Martha. The two were married since 1947.
"My father was a great business leader and humanitarian who dedicated his life to the company and the community," said William Clay Ford, Jr., executive chairman of Ford Motor Company. "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."
Added Ford president and CEO Alan Mullaly: "Mr. Ford had a profound impact on Ford Motor Company. The company extends its deepest sympathies to the many members of the extended Ford family at this difficult time. While we mourn Mr. Ford’s death, we also are grateful for his many contributions to the company and the auto industry."
Ford was chairman of the board of trustees of the Henry Ford Museum from 1951 to 1983, after which he was named chairman emeritus. He 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 May 2003, The Detroit News honored Mr. Ford as a Michiganian of the Year for 2003, an annual tribute to select citizens who made significant contributions to the state or local community. In September 2005, he was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.
"I was deeply saddened to learn about the passing of William Clay Ford,Sr., today," Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said. "Not only was Mr. Ford a titan in our business community; he has been one of Detroit’s greatest supporters and philanthropists. His commitment to the city was never more evident than it was with his decision to move the Detroit Lions back downtown to the stadium that bears his family’s name. That vote of confidence in Detroit was an important piece of the redevelopment of downtown that has since taken place. Mr. Ford’s compassion was equally evident in the many philanthropic causes he supported so generously over the years. My heart goes out to his family and loved ones as they mourn their loss. Mr. Ford's legacy surely will live on through his extraordinary family."
In 1996, Henry Ford Hospital opened The 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.
Funeral services will be held privately. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent in the name of William Clay Ford to the Henry Ford Museum at 20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn, Mich. 48124 or to Dr. Scott Dulchavsky’s Innovation Institute at Henry Ford Health System at 2799 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit, Mich. 48045.
In honor of Mr. Ford’s memory, Ford Motor Company locations in the U.S. will lower their American and Ford flags to half-staff for a 30-day period. Ford locations outside of the U.S. will follow local custom.