Detroit Lions owner and chairman William Clay Ford Sr. has died of pneumonia at his home, team president Tom Lewand announced Sunday. Ford was 88.
Ford, the last surviving grandson of Henry Ford, was a staple in the Detroit community. He purchased the Lions in 1963 for a reported $6 million.
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"No owner loved his team more than Mr. Ford loved the Lions," Lewand said in a statement. "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."
During his ownership, Ford presided over a Lions team that won only one playoff game and never made a Super Bowl. Ford was known as a loyal employer, a characteristic that came under fire during the tenure of former general manager Matt Millen.
Ford moved the club from Tiger Stadium in Detroit to the Pontiac Silverdome in 1975 before bringing his team back downtown.
Ford Field -- a spectacular 65,000-seat, $315 million indoor stadium -- opened in 2002 and, coupled with a state-of-the-art team headquarters in nearby Allen Park, gave the Lions the best facilities money could buy.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released the following statement:
"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."
Zygi and Mark Wilf, owners of the Minnesota Vikings, described Ford as a leader who had a "profound impact on shaping this game."
"His passion for the Lions and the city of Detroit was unwavering and will be deeply missed," they said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Ford family and the Detroit Lions organization."
Ford graduated from Yale University in 1949 with a Bachelor of Science in Economics. He sat on the Ford Motor Company Board of Directors for 57 years before retiring in 2005.
Ford was married to the former Martha Parke Firestone, an heiress to the Akron, Ohio, rubber fortune. Her grandfather, Harvey Firestone, was a close friend of Henry Ford. They had three daughters, a son, 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Funeral services will be private.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.