This weekend, a member of American first family of the auto industry has passed on. At 88 years of age, William Clay Ford was a husband, father and, to most of us, a key part of Ford Motor Company over a seven-decade timeframe. The last surviving grandson of Henry Ford, William Clay Ford was last living child of Edsel and his wife Eleanor. The Clay middle name was the maiden name of his mother, Eleanor Ford. Born March 14, 1925, he was the youngest of Edsel’s four children within a storied industrial family.
His contributions to the Ford Motor Company took place over 57 years. Thanks to his direct relationship with the family business, William Clay Ford was elected to the Board of Directors even before he graduated Yale University. While his affiliation and his brother Henry Ford II helped William Clay gain entrance in a major corporate empire, he would serve a quiet but truly dynamic role in the Ford Motor Company. His brother Henry Ford II was quickly redefining the management structure of the automaker required more dedication to keen financial and resource management. Leaving a highly reputable school with a degree in Economics allowed William Clay Ford to fit in nicely with the new Ford Motor Company that emerged from the post-war. Over his decades of service within the major American car company, William Clay Ford would be supportive in money management including serving as chairman of the Finance Committee in the 1980s and 1990s.
What must have been William Clay Ford’s most prized roles in the Ford Motor Company was his position with the Design Committee. Officially holding the position for 32 years starting in 1957, almost every vehicle produced by Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands from the late 1950s through to the 1980s had some input from William Clay Ford. The uber-luxury Continental Mark II is considered one of the most noteworthy classic Ford products made possible by Ford’s encouragement (ironically contradicting William Clay Ford‘s financial savvy, the Continental Mark II actually functioned as a loss leader for the company). Serving as high as vice chairman of the board for the Ford Motor Company in starting in 1989, William Clay Ford would never possess the top position in the business. One of his four children William Clay Ford Jr. would lead Ford Motor Company as chairman. However, William Clay Ford Jr. relinquished that leadership position shortly after his father’s retirement in 2005. He was the auto company’s largest single shareholder up until his passing.
Outside of his family auto company, William Clay Ford’s name will probably hold the most meaning to fans of the NFL’s Detroit Lions. Buying the team in 1963 after two years as the Lions’ president, he paid 4.5 million dollars. The team under his possession had ten NFL playoff opportunities but won just a single game in 1991. The famous Detroit Lions logo was introduced under the ownership of William Clay Ford. The combination of his ownership in Ford Motor Company and the revenue of the Detroit Lions resulted in a personal net worth of 1.4 billion dollars US. On top of his duties to the auto company and his football team, Ford was a director of the Detroit Economic Club, a national trustee of the Boys’ and Girls’ Club as well as an honorary chair to the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. William Clay Ford was also the largest donor to the Henry Ford Museum that preserves much of the history established first by his grandfather.
William Clay Ford married Martha Parke Firestone in 1947. Their 66-year marriage was a highly significant relationship that involved both families dating back to the friendship of Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford. William and Martha Ford brought three daughters and a son, the before-mentioned William Clay Ford Jr. who worked closely with his father. William Clay Ford was a grandfather to 14 and a great-grandfather to a pair of descendants. On Sunday, executive chairman of Ford and son William Clay Ford Jr. said, ” My father was a great business leader and humanitarian who dedicated his life to the company and the community.”
William Clay Ford died of pneumonia on Sunday morning. Planning to pay respect privately, his family has requested anyone wishing to pay respect can send a donation in William Clay Ford’s name to the Henry Ford Museum or to Dr. Scott Dutchavsky’s Innovation Institute at Henry Ford Health System. During Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race, winner and Ford driver Brad Keselowski acknowledged William Clay Ford’s passing.