Josephine Clay Ford, auto heiress, dies at 81

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DETROIT (AP) – Josephine Clay Ford, a leading philanthropist and the only granddaughter of automotive pioneer Henry Ford, died Wednesday. She was 81.

Ford’s death was announced in an e-mail to Ford Motor Co. employees by company Chairman Bill Ford Jr., a nephew.

Jon Pepper, a company spokesman, said Josephine Ford, who lived in suburban Grosse Pointe Farms, had been ill several weeks and died of natural causes at Henry Ford Hospital.

“Throughout her life, my aunt embodied the spirit of giving and family loyalty,” Bill Ford said. “She was an inspiration to all who knew her. Her love for Ford Motor Company was unsurpassed, and all of us will mourn her passing.”

At the time of her death, Ford owned more than 13 million shares of Ford Motor stock – about 18 percent of the stock held exclusively by Ford family members. In 2001, Time magazine estimated her fortune at $416 million.

The Detroit Institute of Arts, the Josephine Ford Cancer Center and the College for Creative Studies, an art and design college in Detroit, were among recipients of millions from “Dody” Ford and the foundation she established with her late husband.

“What else is there for a girl who wasn’t competitive to do but try to escape all that Ford stuff?” she once said.

Graham W.J. Beal, director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, said Ford was “extraordinarily generous. She would certainly count as one of the greatest contributors to this institution.”

The museum received from Ford artwork and monetary donations that Beal said amounted to “a serious eight-figure sum,” including Vincent Van Gogh’s “Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin,” which Bill Ford’s e-mail said was valued at $40 million.

Ford amassed a renowned art collection, including paintings by van Gogh, Renoir and Picasso. Beal said he did not know how Ford had bequeathed her remaining artworks.

She was born in 1923, the third of Edsel and Eleanor Ford’s four children. Edsel was Henry Ford’s only son.

Her oldest brother, Henry Ford II, was chairman and CEO of Ford Motor from 1945 until his retirement in 1979; her other brothers, Benson Ford and William Clay Ford, also inherited millions but did not hold key management roles with the automaker.

Coincidentally, in 1943 she married a man named Ford – Walter Buhl Ford II, a noted interior and industrial designer who began his career with rival General Motors Corp. He later was chairman and chief executive officer of Ford & Earl Design Associates, a commercial and interior design company. He died in 1991.

The couple had two sons and two daughters. Their younger son, Alfred Brush Ford, was active in Ford corporate charities but otherwise shunned the family business and joined the Hare Krishna religious sect, renaming himself Ambarish Das.

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