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William Clay Ford, last surviving grandson of Henry Ford, dies at 88

Mar 9, 2014, 5:11 PM EST

Photo courtesy: Forbes Photo courtesy: Forbes

The automotive, motorsports and pro football worlds are mourning the death of William Clay Ford, who passed away Sunday from pneumonia, according to a company statement.

Ford was 88 and the last surviving grandchild of the company’s founder, Henry Ford.

Ford spent 57 years with the 110-year-old company his grandfather built, most recently as Director Emeritus.

In a twist, he was elected to the company’s board of directors in 1948, a year before he graduated from Yale University and began actually working at Ford in 1949. He spent 32 years as chairman of Ford’s Design Committee, overseeing dozens of new car developments and oftentimes exotic concept cars.

He was credited with overseeing the development of a number of classic Ford vehicles, including the Continental Mark II, which many car enthusiasts consider among the most iconic vehicles ever manufactured.

He also championed Ford’s involvement in various forms of motorsports, including NASCAR, open-wheel racing, drag racing and other series both in the U.S. and internationally.

NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France issued this statement on the passing of Ford after Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway: “On behalf of the France family and everyone at NASCAR, our thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Ford family on the passing of William Clay Ford Sr. He was a worthy successor not only to a great company but also a legacy – and he served both exceptionally well. The grandson of Henry Ford will be remembered as a man of style, for both the automobiles he built and the life he led. He was a giant … who forever will be missed.”

Ford became chairman of Ford’s Executive Committee in 1978, 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.

He 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.

William Clay Ford was named president of the Detroit Lions in 1961, purchased the team two years later for a reported $4.5 million (it’s now valued by Forbes at $900 million), and served as its chairman until his death.

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

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