Ford died of pneumonia at his Grosse Pointe home on Sunday morning. He was 88, five days shy of his 89th birthday.
On the ownership, the team released this statement: “Today we are mourning the loss of Mr. Ford and reflecting on the impact that he had on the Lions and on our community. Information related to ownership succession will be communicated at the appropriate time.”
In a Crain’s Detroit Business story from Nov. 24, a source said that Ford intended to keep the team in the family.
It should be a smooth transition because his 56-year-old son, William Clay Ford Jr., has been vice chairman of the Lions since 1995, is involved in the team on a daily basis and has sat on several important NFL committees.
“I don’t think anything negative will happen. This is not a situation like the Raiders where Al Davis passed and left his son Mark unprepared to succeed him. He had not exactly been groomed as a successor over the years,’’ NFL writer Michael Silver said on an NFL.com video.
“Bill Ford has taken on an increasing role over the years and certainly is essentially an owner now,’’ Silver said. “I think maybe you’ll see some more progressive things come out of the organization as tends to happen generationally. I think we saw that for example for the Giants and other organizations if it stays in the family, successors have been groomed for a long time and they may be a little more forward thinking in their stewardship.’’
Ford bought the Lions in November 1963 when he paid $4.5 million to buy out the other shareholders.
Forbes.com estimates the team value at $900 million and Ford’s worth at $1.4 billion.
Ford is survived by his wife of 66 years, Martha Parke Firestone; his son Bill; and three daughters — Martha Parke Morse, Sheila Firestone Hamp and Elizabeth Hudson Ford.
It’s unknown if he left the team to his wife or if his children had shares in the Lions.