Josephine Clay Ford, a leading philanthropist who was the only granddaughter of automotive pioneer Henry Ford, died Wednesday in Detroit. She was 81.
The resident of suburban Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., had been ill for several weeks and died of natural causes at Henry Ford Hospital, said Jon Pepper, a Ford Motor Co. spokesman,
"Throughout her life, my aunt embodied the spirit of giving and family loyalty," said Bill Ford, chairman of Ford and Josephine's nephew, who announced her death to employees in an e-mail.
At the time of her death, Josephine Ford owned more than 13 million shares of company stock -- about 18% of the stock held exclusively by Ford family members. In 2001, Time magazine estimated her fortune at $416 million.
Over the years, "Dodie" Ford and the foundation she established with her husband donated more than $20 million to the Detroit Institute of Arts; $14 million to Henry Ford Health System in Detroit for what is now known as the Josephine Ford Cancer Center, one of the largest cancer centers in Michigan; and $20 million to the College for Creative Studies, an art and design college in Detroit known for turning out car designers.
"What else is there for a girl who wasn't competitive to do but try to escape all that Ford stuff?" she once said.
In addition to charity work, Ford amassed a noted art collection, including paintings by Van Gogh, Renoir and Picasso. She donated Van Gogh's "Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin," which Bill Ford's e-mail said was valued at $40 million, and other works valued at more than $1 million apiece to the Detroit Institute of Arts.
"She's never sat on her millions," Eleanor Breitmeyer Gebert, a retired society editor of the Detroit News who covered the Ford family for more than 35 years, said in 1998. "She and her husband were a great match. She always kept a low profile; she's very shy."
Ford was born in 1923, the third of Edsel and Eleanor Ford's four children. Edsel, Henry Ford's only son, nearly bankrupted the family carmaking business in the 1950s, but the company was rebuilt by Josephine's oldest brother, Henry Ford II, who was chief executive from 1945 until his retirement in 1979.
Her other brothers, Benson Ford and William Clay Ford, also inherited millions but did not hold key management roles with the automaker.
Coincidentally, in 1943 Josephine married a man named Ford from a banking family unrelated to the automobile Fords. Walter Buhl Ford II was a noted interior and industrial designer who began his career with rival General Motors Corp. He later was chairman and chief executive of Ford & Earl Design Associates, a commercial and interior design company. He died in 1991.
The couple had two sons and two daughters.