William Clay Ford Sr., the owner of the Detroit Lions and former head of the Ford Motor Co. for more than 50 years, has died at the age of 88, according to statements issued by the team and the company.
Sunday's statement said Ford died of pneumonia in his sleep at his home.
The Lions also issued a statement on Ford's death.
“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 president Tom Lewand said. “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.”
Ford was the final surviving grandson of Henry Ford, the founder of the automotive giant. He served on the company's board of directors for 57 years before retiring in 2005, while his son was running the company, and was the largest individual shareholder in Ford Motor Company.
William Clay Ford Jr. is widely expected to take over control of his father's share of the team.
Ford Sr. purchased the Lions in 1963. The team moved from Tiger Stadium, where it played in its inaugural years, to the Pontiac Silverdome in 1975, followed by the move to Ford Field in downtown Detroit in 2002. Ford Field hosted Super Bowl XL in 2006, with the Pittsburgh Steelers beating the Seattle Seahawks, 21–10.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement following Ford's death:
“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. 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.”
Although Ford Sr.'s public presence was very limited in recent years, seldom being spotted at home games the past few seasons, his impact on the Lions — even among its current players — cannot be overstated.
Today the city of Detroit lost a great man! RIP Mr. William Clay Ford— Reggie Bush (@ReggieBush) March 9, 2014
- - - - - - -