William Clay Ford, a descendant of auto industry pioneer Henry Ford and owner of the Detroit Lions, has died at age 88. He was the son of Edsel Ford.
Ford’s death was confirmed by the automaker that bears his family’s name Sunday. The company said Ford died at home after suffering from pneumonia. And it said that during his 57 years with the company, Ford led the Design Committee and helped develop cars such as the Continental Mark II, a sleek two-door built in the mid-1950s.
“My father was a great business leader and humanitarian who dedicated his life to the company and the community,” executive chairman Ford William Clay Ford, Jr. said in a statement released by the 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.”
At the time of his death, Ford was the car company’s director emeritus. In Detroit, he was also known as the enthusiastic owner of a football team that one won playoff game in the 50 years he owned the team. Ford became the franchise’s owner in 1963, after purchasing the Lions for $6 million.
Lions President Tom Lewand issued this statement today:
“No owner loved his team more than Mr. Ford loved the Lions.
“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.
“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.”
The Lions have had a hard time finding consistent success. Here’s how the Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett describes their struggles under Ford:
“The Lions made just 10 postseason appearances and won one playoff game in Ford’s tenure, a 38-6 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in January of 1992, and the owner had a dubious relationship with his fan base.
“Known by players and executives within the organization and across the league for his uncommon wealth and generosity, Ford was frustratingly loyal to the men he put in charge of running his team.”
As Birkett notes, several coaches and executives formed tight relationships with Ford, who was known for eating bologna sandwiches on white bread at his Grosse Pointe house. They recall a loyal team owner who was involved with his team and players.
Describing Ford’s legacy outside of the company his grandfather founded, Ford noted his work with the Eisenhower Medical Center, the United Way, and the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs of America. The company also described his support for sports medicine research and the Henry Ford Museum.