Although he may not have been the most “famous” Ford, William Clay Ford was, perhaps, one of the most important members of the automotive family, and certainly the one most responsible for keeping it under their control, after going head-to-head with his older brother Henry Ford II (then chairman) in 1956 to make sure that they retained a minimum of 40% of the voting rights just before the company went public.
Taught to drive by his grandfather, Henry Ford (who started the company in 1903). William Clay led a privileged life. Charles Lindbergh reportedly gave him his first plane ride in a Ford Tri-Motor, and members of the Rockefellers and Edisons attended his wedding to Martha Parke Firestone, the granddaughter of Harvey Firestone and Idabelle Smith Firestone, on June 21, 1947.
Born on March 14, 1925, in Detroit, Michigan to Edsel Ford and Eleanor Lowthian Clay, young William is said to have “enjoyed sitting with his father an painting watercolors of luxury cars” as a child. Oddly, although he served as the chairman of Ford’s design committee for 32 years (from 1957-1989), his only direct involvement in auto design came with the creation of the Lincoln Continental Mark II.
Ford served in the U.S. Navy Air Corps during World War II, and was appointed to the board-of-directors of Ford Motor Company a year after the death of his grandfather in 1948. He later earned a BS degree in Economics from Yale University in 1949.
This certainly served him well years later when William Clay Ford became chairman of Ford Motors' Finance Committee. Ford was member of the Ford Motor Company's board of directors for 57 years, retiring on May 12, 2005.
Other notable accomplishments included acting as chairman of the board of trustees of the Henry Ford Museum from 1951 to 1983 (as well as being its largest donor), as well as being actively involved on the boards of other historical properties such as the Wayside Inn and Seaboard Properties which managed the Dearborn Inn and Botsford Inn.
He also bought controlling interest in the Detroit Lions on November 22, 1963.
At the time of his death from pneumonia last week (March 9th, 2014), Ford maintained his position as the largest single stockholder in his family’s company, with “6.7 million shares of Class B stock and 26.3 million common shares, making him (according to Forbes Magazine) the “371st richest person in the United States in 2013, with an approximate net worth of $1.4 billion.”
He is survived by his wife and their 4 children William Clay Ford Jr.(current chairman of Ford Motors), Martha Ford Morse, Sheila Ford Hamp, and Elizabeth Ford Kontulis; 14 grandchildren; and two great grandchildren.