William Clay Ford’s love for the Detroit Lions began as a child when his father, Edsel Ford, took him to the University of Detroit Stadium to see the first Lions’ team play in their first season in Detroit in 1934.
It was a relationship that would shape the Ford family, the Lions organization and the City of Detroit for years to come.
Mr. Ford became a club director in 1956 and was asked by then-Lions’ President Edwin J. Anderson to become the Lions’ president in 1961.
Nearly 30 years after taking in that first game University of Detroit Stadium, Mr. Ford purchased the team outright for $4.5 million on Nov. 22, 1963 and officially took over the club January 10, 1964.
Mr. Ford passed away Sunday morning. He was 88 years old and the last surviving grandchild of Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford.
“It is with profound sadness that we mourn the loss of Mr. Ford and extend our deepest sympathies to Mrs. Ford and to the entire Ford family,” Lions team president Tom Lewand said in a statement.
“No owner loved his team more than Mr. Ford loved the Lions.
“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 Super Bowl championship to the Lions and to our community. Each of us in the organization will continue to relentlessly pursue that goal in his honor.”
Always a fan first, Mr. Ford’s son, Lions vice chairman Bill Ford, told a story recently at a Lions charity event that his father would wonder the hallways at nights listening to games when the family lived in Europe for a time.
Throughout his tenure as owner, Mr. Ford never sought the limelight for his many contributions to football, the automotive industry and the Detroit community.
Over the last few years, Bill Ford had taken over much of the day-to-day operations.
Mr. Ford brought the Lions to their new downtown Detroit home, Ford Field, in 2002. The $500 million stadium enhanced the Lions’ ability to compete and helped further the revitalization of downtown.
In May 2003, the Detroit News honored Mr. Ford as a Michiganian-of-the-Year, an annual tribute to select citizens who made significant contributions to the state or local community for bring the team “back home” to Detroit from the Pontiac Silverdome.
“For five decades, Mr. Ford's passion for the Lions, Detroit, and the NFL was the foundation of one of the NFL’s historic franchises," said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in a statement.
"As an NFL owner, Mr. Ford helped bring the NFL through enormous periods of change and growth, always guided by his commitment to what was best for the NFL and his beloved Lions. All of us in the NFL extend our heartfelt sympathy to Mr. Ford's wife Martha, Bill Ford, Jr. and the entire Ford family.”