Imagine taking your first driving lesson with Henry Ford, or going on your first flight with Charles Lindbergh. Those might sound like wild fantasies for all of us, but for the late William Clay Ford Sr., it was one of the privileges of being the grandson of Henry Ford. Unfortunately, William Clay Ford’s illustrious life came to end Sunday as he passed away in his sleep from pneumonia at his home in Grosse Pointe Shores. He was 88 years old.
Born on March 14, 1925, William Clay Ford led a privileged life, but he never took his foot off of the gas pedal. Instead, he always looked to push himself to the limits and build a life of his own accord. At just 18 years old, Ford became a member of U.S. Navy Air Corps during World War II, and later on in 1949, he graduated from Yale University with a degree in economics. These, of course, are major accomplishments for any man. Adding to the foundations of his life, Ford was also married in 1947 to Martha Firestone, heiress to the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co.
Eventually, William Ford became involved in his grandfather’s company, showing a flair for design and acumen for business. Both skills were of great benefit to the company. In 1956, one of Ford’s greatest styling contributions came with the design 1956 Continental Mark II, which is viewed as one of the most iconic cars of all-time. Former Ford Motor president, Nick Scheele, says, “He had a great eye for styling. You could see it in his Continental Mark II.”
However, William Clay Ford’s biggest contribution may have come when he stubbornly insisted that the Ford family not give up control of the company when they went public in 1956. Through his leadership, the Ford family retained 40% of the voting rights through a special class of stock, helping the company continue forward into the modern world.
During his life, Ford became so prominent that he appeared on the May 1953 cover of Time Magazine with brother Benson and father Henry. Adding to his infamy, William Clay Ford bought the Detroit Lions in 1964 for 4.5 billion dollars. “My father was a great business leader and humanitarian who dedicated his life to the company and the community,” William Clay Ford Jr. said in a released public statement. “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.”
William Clay Ford Sr. is survived by his wife Martha, children William Jr., Martha Ford Morse, Sheila Ford Hemp, and Elizabeth Ford Kontulis, as well as 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.