William Clay Ford died on March 9, 2014 of pneumonia. He was the last surviving grandchild of Henry Ford, one of the greatest pioneers of the automotive industry. Although he never had the chance to run the family business, he was a constant source of stability for the brand. William did get to run his own business as owner of the Detroit Lions.
Ford was the youngest child of Edsel B. Ford and became an heir to an automotive fortune. He was probably the only person to steer an original Ford car while sitting on his grandfather Henry’s lap. As William got older, he took a more serious role in the company. During college summer breaks, he got his hands dirty working on the company’s assembly lines. This gave him an inside look at the business. He graduated from Yale with a degree in economics. At 23, William became part of the Ford Motor Company’s board of directors. His skills for sales and advertising led him to great success with industrial relations. He was the key figure who negotiated a contract with the United Auto Workers.
One of his biggest contributions to the automotive brand was his unique ideas concerning a new edition of the Lincoln Continental called the Continental Mark II. Even though William had a great eye for design, he was never named chief executive at Ford. He served nearly 57 years on Ford’s board of directors and retired in 2005.
Despite his great fortune, William Clay Ford was not a flamboyant man. He lived life in a quiet manner. His greatest achievement was winning an athlete competition among hundreds of Navy cadets. He states that without his name or money, he won on his own merit.
Ford’s wife was Martha Parke Firestone, an heiress to her family’s rubber and tire business fortune. Harvey Firestone, grandfather of Martha, was a close friend to Henry Ford. The two lived happily with their four children, 14 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
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