DETROIT (Reuters) - Former Ford Motor Co executive William Clay Ford Sr., the last surviving grandchild of the automaker's founder Henry Ford, died on Sunday at age 88, the company said.
Ford, who spent many of his 57 years at Ford focusing on cars' design, died of pneumonia at his home in the Detroit suburb Grosse Pointe Shores.
Ford was also owner of the NFL's Detroit Lions and father of William Clay Ford Jr., the automaker's current executive chairman. He was director emeritus of Ford at the time of his death.
Ford joined the automaker's sales and advertising staff after graduating from Yale in 1949.
His notable executive positions included vice president of product design, head of the former Continental Division and member of the Office of the Chief Executive. His board positions included vice chairman, chairman of the Executive Committee and chairman of the Finance Committee.
He was a Ford director from 1948 until his retirement in 2005 - more than half the automaker's 110-year history. Forbes magazine estimated his fortune at $1.35 billion.
"My father was a great business leader and humanitarian who dedicated his life to the company and the community," William Jr. said in a statement released by Ford.
Nick Scheele, a former Ford Motor Co president and former chief executive of Jaguar Cars, said William Sr. was one of the key supporters of Ford's 1990 purchase of Jaguar, the British sports-car maker, and appreciated fine European design.
"You could see it in his Continental Mark II," Scheele said. "He had a great eye for styling."
Ford and his brother Henry II were sons of Edsel Ford, whose father founded the storied automaker.
Henry II outshone his younger brother in his career at the company. Known as "HF2" and "Hank the Deuce," he was Ford's chairman and chief executive officer before his death in 1987.
William Clay inherited Edsel's love of design and it showed in his stewardship of the Continental Mark II, a beautiful but short-lived Ford luxury car in the mid-1950s. The car was one of the most expensive of its time but Ford reportedly lost money on it despite its popularity with the rich and famous.
Ford bought the Lions in 1963 and was the team's chairman until his death.
Ford shunned the spotlight but at times talked about his grandfather giving him his first driving lesson at age 10 - they were going 70 miles per hour with young William in Henry's lap when a policeman stopped them.
Ford took his first airplane ride with celebrated aviator Charles Lindbergh at the controls and enlisted in the Naval Air Corps during World War Two. He was taking flight training at the time of his discharge in 1945.
He would have marked his 89th birthday on Friday.
His survivors include his wife of 66 years, Martha Firestone Ford, granddaughter of Harvey Firestone. Harvey Firestone was the founder of the Firestone tire company and a good friend of the first Henry Ford.
In addition to his wife and William Jr., Ford is survived by his daughters Martha Ford Morse, Sheila Ford Hamp and Elizabeth Ford Kontulis; 14 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
(Additional reporting by Bill Trott; Editing by Frances Kerry)