Crain News Service and wire reports
DETROIT (March 10, 2014) — William Clay Ford Sr., a former Ford Motor Co. vice chairman and the last surviving grandson of company founder Henry Ford, died March 9 at age 88.
He died of pneumonia in his home in Grosse Pointe, Mich., the auto maker said in a statement.
Mr. Ford, the father of current executive chairman William Clay Ford Jr., joined the company's board of directors in 1948. He was 23 at the time.
He took a job with the auto maker the next year, the start of a career that ended with his retirement from Ford's board in 2005. Many of his roles were in planning and strategy. He chaired the company's Design Committee for 32 years.
On the board of directors, Mr. Ford had long been a member of the powerful Finance Committee. He was chairman of the committee from 1987 through 1995. The Finance Committee decides how the auto maker allocates capital and other funds, giving it control over which product programs are approved.
William Clay Ford Sr. was born in Detroit on March 14, 1925, the youngest of the four children of Eleanor Clay and Edsel Ford, Henry Ford's only child. Benson Ford died in 1978; Henry Ford II, longtime CEO and chairman of the company, died in 1987; and Josephine Ford died in 2005.
William Sr. attended Detroit University School in Grosse Pointe, Mich., and Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn., according to a company biography. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy's Air Corps in 1943 and was in flight training when he was discharged two years later at the end of World War II.
In 1947 he married the former Martha Firestone, whose grandfather, Harvey, had founded the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. and was friends with Henry Ford. They had three daughters and one son.
Mr. Ford graduated from Yale University in 1949 with a degree in economics, then joined Ford Motor's sales and advertising staff. In 1951 he became quality-control manager for the Lincoln-Mercury Division's jet-engine defense project.
Time magazine put Mr. Ford and his two brothers on its May 18, 1953, cover, with Henry Ford II, the company's president, at the wheel.
‘Handsome, athletic, charming'
William Clay Ford “was handsome, athletic, charming and, unlike [brother] Benson, showed some flair for the company business, both in design and finance,” Automotive News wrote in a 2003 retrospective that addressed Henry Ford II's higher rank among the siblings.