DETROIT -- William Clay Ford, the owner of the
He served as an employee and board member of the automaker for more than half of its 100-year history.
"My father was a great business leader and humanitarian who dedicated his life to the company and the community," said William Clay Ford Jr., executive chairman of Ford Motor Co. and Lions vice chairman, in a statement. "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."
Ford was regarded as a dignified man by the select few who seemed to know him well. To the masses in Detroit, he was simply the owner of the Lions who struggled to achieve success on the field despite showing his passion for winning by spending money on free agents, coaches, executives and facilities.
"People would say, 'He only cares about the money,' but he couldn't care less about that," said Matt Millen, chief executive of the Lions from 2001-08. "He never looked at the Lions as an opportunity for revenue. When he bought them, he looked at it because he loved the game and loved his players. He used to hang out with his players all the time. He loved being in the locker room. He loved talking to the guys, and he'd come to practice all the time."
Ford's first full season leading the Lions was in 1964, seven years after the franchise won the NFL title. The only playoff victory he enjoyed was in 1992. The Lions are the only team to go 0-16 in a season, hitting rock bottom in 2008. After an 11-year postseason drought, the Lions improved enough to make the playoffs in 2011 only to lose a combined 21 games over the next two seasons.
"No owner loved his team more than Mr. Ford loved the Lions," team President Tom Lewand said in a statement. "Those of us who had the opportunity to work for Mr. Ford knew of his unyielding passion for his family, the Lions and the city of Detroit. His leadership, integrity, kindness, humility and good humor were matched only by his desire to bring a
Millen said Ford was a "regular guy" who had a wealth of extraordinary life experiences.
"I count it as one of the real plusses in my life, to be able to sit and talk and have a relationship with Mr. Ford," Millen said. "He was very well read. We spoke about everything from the Industrial Revolution and the role his grandfather played, Ford Motor Company all the way through. He had tons of life experiences and saw things happen, had access to presidents and world leaders, and he shared all that. It was my pleasure to sit and talk with him. I loved him. He was as good as it gets."