By Larry Lage
DETROIT: William Clay Ford was born into a fortune and spent much of his life staying away from fame as he steered the family business and owned an NFL franchise.
The man reverently referred to as Mr. Ford, the last surviving grandchild of automotive pioneer Henry Ford and owner of the Detroit Lions, died Sunday. He was 88.
Ford Motor Co. said that Ford died of pneumonia at his home in Grosse Pointe. He worked for the company bearing his name for more than half of its 100-year history. He bought a business of his own, the Lions, a half-century ago.
Despite ample opportunity to boost his ego in either role, Ford chose to carry himself in a quiet way publicly.
“My father was a great business leader and humanitarian who dedicated his life to the company and the community,” William Clay Ford Jr., executive chairman of Ford Motor Co. and Lions vice chairman, said in a statement. “He also was a wonderful family man, a loving husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.”
To the masses in the Motor City, Ford was simply the owner of the Lions who struggled to achieve success on the field despite showing his passion for winning by spending money on free agents, coaches, executives and facilities.
Privately, relatively few people got to know a humble and humorous guy with great stories to tell.
“I wish people knew the Mr. Ford that I knew,” former Lions general manager Matt Millen said Sunday. “He was a very, very fascinating guy who played golf with President (Dwight) Eisenhower, ran with the Rat Pack, talked to President (John) Kennedy on the phone. As a kid who grew up sitting at the foot of a grandpa who invented everything, talking to him was a history lesson and I absolutely loved it every time.”
Born in 1925 with what was already a household name, Ford was 23 when he joined the Ford Motor Co. board of directors in 1948.
Ford remained a company director until 2005.