03-13-2014, 12:04 AM
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Detroit, MI USA
We lost a great man this past week.....
Moderators - this doesn't belong in this section, but I feel so very strongly that we honor the passing of a great man...if you would please indulge me for the next 24 hours -- thank you!
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We lost another of the ‘Greatest Generation’ this past weekend…..in fact we lost one of the “Lions” of the industry – and I say that not as a pun or to exhibit any disrespect.
William Clay Ford, Sr. was born in March of 1925 – the fourth child of Edsel and Eleanor Ford – and the grandson of Henry Ford. The word I would use to describe the Ford family in terms of Automobiles (and so much more) would be “Royalty.” Yes……. this coming from a life-long General Motors guy…..
A visit to Detroit will demonstrate very quickly as to the imprint this Iconic American Family has left on Southeastern Michigan—and indeed, the world. Most arrive in the Motor City by driving on the Edsel Ford Freeway (also known as Interstate 94) -- The Henry Ford Medical Center and Henry Ford Health System are comprised of several hospitals and institutes of learning that are world renowned. There’s the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village……and of course Ford Field. The list would continue for pages, but you get the idea………
Being a life-long “GMer” – you’d think that this would be perhaps bothersome to me – but no, it wasn’t and it isn’t…..to me, it’s a comfort and a joy –and an illustration of the American Spirit -- to know that a family has done so much for– and given back, if you will – to America and to the world.
Edsel and Eleanor Ford were blessed with four children – Henry II, Benson, Josephine, and William. Benson died in 1978 – Henry in the early 80s – and Josephine in 2005……and with William passing this past Sunday, it really IS the ending of an era……
Much is being written about Mr. Ford as I type this and I don’t for one moment think that I can tell you nearly what others can – but we lost another great man – and I can’t help but sit down and write a few lines…….you know how I can be……………..!
Mr. Ford was a Veteran of World War II where he served in the Naval Air Corps. He returned to civilian life and married Martha Firestone
...........(yes…..those Firestones…) .......and leaves her as a widow. They in turn had four children – the most famous being William Clay Ford Jr – who is Executive Chairman of the Ford Motor Company.
Mr. Ford Sr. was elected to the Board of Directors in 1948 and remained there until his retirement in 2005. Even then he was given a title “Director Emeritus”……
In 1952, he was given the charge to bring to market a successor to the legendary Lincoln Continental – a car imagined and designed by his father, Edsel. William realized that this must be a world-class automobile that paid tribute and honor to his father – and his efforts and the efforts of those on his team begat the Continental Mark II. The Mark II defined the very best of American ingenuity of the 50s – and I might mention – was far ahead of its time. Google it if you’re not familiar with the nameplate –
Talk to anyone who knows the history of the Ford Motor Company and they’ll tell you that Mr. Ford had a better feel for cars and trucks than anyone else in the Ford family – save for perhaps his father, Edsel. It remained that way until very recently. Perhaps that’s why he was Chairman of the Ford Motor Company Design committee for so many years. Yet the same people will tell you that while he held unbelievable power, he was a very humble man – a man that would listen to many points of view--very fair, but not bashful about making hard decisions. This ability allowed him to steer the company -- and the family – through some very turbulent waters.
In the early 2000s, he, along with the company CFO could see the coming crisis that would freeze capital markets, precipitated by the housing melt-down. They could see that there WOULD be a melt-down and when it hit, companies would not be able to raise much needed money on the open market for a capital-intensive industry. His solution? Mortgage everything including the very trademark of Ford – the “Blue Oval.” This allowed them to put nearly 40 billion in the bank, so to speak…..and when the crash occurred, Ford did not follow GM and Chrysler into Chapter 11. Today Ford Motor Company is alive and doing very well, indeed. They are a formidable competitor. And competition is good. It makes us all better.
Yes – a wise businessman.
But he was much more…..
He was the owner of the Detroit Lions – and I insist that there has never been an NFL Team owner that loved their team more than Mr. Ford. Even with seasons described as “dismal” (that’s perhaps not strong enough a word…) Mr. Ford remained loyal to the players, to his staff, and to the fans. Some would say he wasn’t faithful to Detroit when he moved the Lions from Tiger Stadium to the Pontiac Silverdome in 1975. To that I say “hogwash” – and I’ll get into that in a moment…..
Faithful to a fault, he brought his beloved Lions back to Detroit in 2002 when he opened Ford Field….right in downtown Detroit. Many offers have been made over the years to purchase the franchise or to relocate it…..but it wasn’t going to happen under the guiding hand of Mr. Ford. The Ford family reports that even with Mr. Ford’s passing – the team is not for sale.
Speaking of Loyalty to Detroit………Today it seems we celebrate those who should really be held in scorn. Justin Bieber. The Kardashians. Kanye West. The Baldwin Brothers. The list goes on for hours……..and all on this list, in my opinion, are boorish and crude. To me, real character is defined by what you do when no one’s looking. Mr. Ford had unimpeachable character.
Mr. Ford is the epitome of Philanthropy….yet he didn’t call attention to what he did for others…..no, rather he kept most of his giving quiet……never drawing attention to himself or his family.
The United Way. The Ford Foundation. The Detroit Institute of Arts. The Center for Athletic Medicine (….which continues to discover cures and therapy for those who are ill or who have been injured) And of course, The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. He’s the largest donor ever to that magical place that honors his Grandfather Henry and Grandmother Clara – who he humbly referred to when he stated over and over: “Everything we have we owe to them…..” It may not be much of a stretch to say that anyone in the domestic auto industry could make a similar statement when you really think about it……
A reporter a few years back asked Mr. Ford what he wished for as his Legacy…..
His answer: “…to preserve the things that my Grandfather started…….to maintain the character and quality of all the things he began……we want to keep them living…..we don’t want them to rust and die away………”
Quite a Legacy……
I’d love to say that I knew William Clay Ford, Sr. I’d love to say that we sat before a fire and enjoyed a fine cigar and cognac -- and swapped stories of Detroit and the Auto Industry. No such luck.
I WAS fortunate to be in his presence a few times. I was always struck by how unassuming he was. Whereas Henry the Second was outgoing – boisterous – and impossible to miss, William was warm but quiet and spoke in a baritone in assuring ways.
One time I watched as he dined with an old friend……if you didn’t know better, you’d think they were a couple of very well-dressed retirees……never guessing that one of the men was Automotive Royalty….
Another chance meeting was on the grounds of the very place he grew up -- the Edsel and Eleanor Ford Estate -- during the “Eyes on Design” Concours which is held each year to benefit the Detroit Eye Institute (part of the Henry Ford Medical System…) It had to be coincidence that I was admiring a Continental Mark II when who should walk up behind the car and glance at it………yes – him! I quietly said “….sir – this is one of the most beautiful cars ever built……..simply stunning…” and he replied “….Thank you – that’s very kind of you to say…….” And then off he went – and most people might not have even noticed that they were in the presence of ‘Royalty.’
A member of The Greatest Generation.
......................The world has lost a great man.
To Mrs. Ford and her children and extended family: My sincerest sympathy. We pray for his soul as he is joined with those who have gone before him. And we weep and mourn with you.
The end of an era, indeed.