The last surviving grandchild of Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford has died, ending the US family business’s direct link with the famous industrialist who pioneered automobile assembly line manufacture, which made owning a car a possibility for millions of people around the world.
William Clay Ford, who was less than a week shy of his 89th birthday, died of pneumonia on 9 March, the Ford Motor Company said.
Ford dedicated much of his life to the family business, becoming a member of the board while still a student at Yale University, and joining the company when he graduated in 1949.
But it was Ford’s brother, Henry II, known for his aggressive management approach and jet setting lifestyle, who succeeded their father at the helm of the company, becoming chief executive and president. Ford was appointed a member of the executive team in 1976, when Henry II’s ailing health forced him to consider succession.
However, Henry II overlooked his brother to succeed him as chief executive, and, in 1980, the first non-family chief executive, Philip Caldwell, was appointed to the role.
Ford instead became vice chairman of the family business, where he ensured the family retained 40% of their voting power, while only owning 2% of common stock.
Ford had married Martha Parke Firestone, a descendent of the eponymous tyre family business, in 1947, uniting two of the US’s industrial dynasties. They had four children, and their only son, William Clay Ford Jr, went on to become Ford’s chairman in 2002. Ford Sr retired from the board three years later.
Last year, Ford’s great niece, Elena Ford, who is Henry II’s granddaughter, was appointed executive vice president, representing the fifth generation to hold a leadership role in the company.
In addition to his role in the family business, Ford owned the Detroit Lions football team, where his son is now vice chairman.
Ford is survived by his wife and son, as well as his three daughters, Martha Ford Morse, Sheila Ford Hamp and Elizabeth Ford Kontulis, as well as 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.