People & Careers
People & Careers

Ford Motor Company Director Emeritus William Clay Ford Dies at Age 88

Bill Ford, retired Vice Chairman, Ford Motor Company

PDF: Biography
PDF: Timeline

DEARBORN, Mich., March 9, 2014 - William Clay Ford, who helped steer Ford Motor Company into the modern era as an employee, director and influential member of the Ford family, died this morning at his home from pneumonia.

Mr. Ford, 88, served as Director Emeritus, Ford Motor Company and was the last surviving grandchild of the company’s founder, Henry Ford.


Mr. Ford served 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, Mr. 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.

Mr. 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.

“My father was a great business leader and humanitarian who dedicated his life to the company and the community,” said William Clay Ford, Jr., executive chairman, Ford Motor 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.”

“Mr. Ford had a profound impact on Ford Motor Company,” said Alan Mulally, Ford president and CEO. “The company extends its deepest sympathies to the many members of 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.”

Mr. 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. Mr. Ford served as a director of the Detroit Economic Club, was an honorary life trustee of the Eisenhower Medical Center 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 Center for Athletic Medicine, a leading sports medicine treatment and research institution. In 1997, the outdoor courts of the University of Michigan’s new tennis center 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.

Funeral services will be held privately. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent in the name of William Clay Ford to the Henry Ford Museum at 20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn, Mich. 48124 or to Dr. Scott Dulchavsky’s Innovation Institute at Henry Ford Health System at  2799 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit, Mich. 48045.

In honor of Mr. Ford’s memory, Ford Motor Company locations in the U.S. will lower their American and Ford flags to half-staff for a 30-day period. Ford locations outside of the U.S. will follow local custom.

For additional information, timelines, photos and video on Mr. Ford’s life, visit media.ford.com.  

William Clay Ford in 1903 Ford Model A

William Clay Ford in 1903 Ford Model A:
William Clay Ford retired as chairman of the Finance Committee in 1995. Here he is pictured on a 1903 Ford Model A with Edsel Ford II (left) and his son, William Clay Ford Jr. (center).


William Ford at Styling, 1957

William Clay Ford at Styling Center 1957: William Clay Ford (right) assumed responsibility for corporate product planning and design and in 1957 became chairman of the company’s Design Committee, a post he held until his retirement in 1989.


William Clay Ford, circa 1987

William Clay Ford Portrait: Painting of William Clay Ford circa 1987.


William Clay Ford at Board of Directors event, 1986

William Clay Ford at a Ford Motor Company Board of Directors event in 1986.


William Clay Ford and William Clay Ford Jr., 1979

William Clay Ford and William Clay Ford Jr. celebrating:William Clay Ford and William Clay Ford Jr. celebrating William Clay Ford Jr.'s first day at work.


William Clay Ford 1956 Continental

William Clay Ford with 1956 Continental: As head of the Continental Division from 1954-56, William Clay Ford oversaw development of the 1956 Continental Mark II, successor to the classic Lincoln Continental developed under the direction of his father, Edsel Ford.


William Clay Ford observing design of Lincoln Continental Mark 2

William Clay Ford at Special Projects: In 1952, William Clay Ford (left) was appointed manager of Special Product Operations in charge of a group of engineers and designers engaged in advanced planning of the Continental Mark II. (Photo taken 1953)


William Ford with his brothers, 1949

William Clay Ford 1949: William Clay Ford became an employee of Ford Motor Company in 1949, joining his brothers, Benson Ford (left), and Henry Ford II (right).


William Ford preparing to light the William Clay furnace, 1948

William Clay Ford lights funace: William Clay Ford (right) prepares to light the William Clay furnace at Ford Motor Company’s Rouge River Complex, in 1948.


William Clay Ford receives a baseball from Detroit Tigers player Mickey Cochrane at a Sept. 19, 1934

William Clay Ford at Detroit Tigers Game:
William Clay Ford receives a baseball from Detroit Tigers player Mickey Cochrane at a Sept. 19, 1934, game against the New York Yankees. Also pictured are Edsel Ford (left) and Henry Ford.


A young William Clay Ford stands in front of his father, Edsel Ford during a family photo, circa 1929.

Mr. and Mrs. Edsel Ford and Children:
A young William Clay Ford stands in front of his father, Edsel Ford during a family photo, circa 1929.


William Clay Ford on the test track at age 14

William Clay Ford on the Test Track: William Clay Ford takes a spin on the Ford test track at age 14.


William Clay Ford

Bill Ford, retired Vice Chairman, Ford Motor Company. (Official Photo)