Obituary: William Clay Ford

Obituary: William Clay Ford

 

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William Clay Ford

The last surviving grandchild of the Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford, has died at home from pneumonia.

William Clay Ford, 88, helped steer the Ford Motor Company into the modern era as an employee and director. He served as director emeritus until his death.

Ford served the Ford Motor Company for 57 years as an employee and board member, playing a pivotal role in shaping the company for more than half of its 110-year history. He was elected to the board of directors on June 4, 1948, and began his employment with the company after graduating from Yale University in 1949. In 1957 he was elected chairman of the design committee, a post he held for 32 years. Throughout his career, he was instrumental in setting the company’s design direction, overseeing the development of a number of classic vehicles, including the Continental Mark II, considered by many to be one of the most iconic cars ever built.

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. He retired from the board and was named director emeritus on May 12, 2005.

Ford is survived by his wife of 66 years, Martha Firestone Ford; daughters Martha Ford Morse (Peter), Sheila Ford Hamp (Steven), and Elizabeth Ford Kontulis (Charles); son William Clay Ford, Jr. (Lisa); 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

“Mr. Ford had a profound impact on Ford Motor Company,” says Ford president Alan Mullaly. “The company extends its deepest sympathies to 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 had numerous associations and roles outside of Ford Motor Company. He became president of the Detroit Lions football team in 1961. He purchased the team in November 1963 and served as its chairman until his death. He also was a dedicated and generous 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. Ford served as a director of the Detroit Economic Club, was an honorary life trustee of the Eisenhower medical centre 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 The William Clay Ford centre for athletic medicine, a leading sports medicine treatment and research institution. In 1997, the outdoor courts of the University of Michigan’s new tennis centre 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.

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