DETROIT - Life should present few challenges for Edsel Ford II. But something as simple as taking his son, Albert, to see a Detroit Tigers game requires blood tests, syringes and insulin.
'And that's just to go to a ball game. It is incredible,' Ford said in an interview, one year after his decision to retire as president of Ford Motor Credit Co. to devote more time to community service. 'Finding a cure for diabetes is my No. 1 long-term goal.'
Albert, 6, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes two years ago.
Ford estimates Ford Motor Co. will spend $1 million 'just for Albert's disease' through health insurance costs from the health insurance policy he receives as a retired Ford employee, a policy that includes dependents through college age.
'That's a lot of money,' Ford said.
His experience seeing the effect a disease can have on a family personalizes and brings home the importance of children's charities, he said. He has been especially active in building CATCH, Caring Athletes Team for Children's & Henry Ford Hospitals. The nonprofit organization, founded by former Detroit Tigers Manager Sparky Anderson, raises money for pediatrics programs at Children's Hospital and Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. Ford is its chairman.
While his younger cousin, William Clay Ford Jr., has become chairman of the family-founded car company, Edsel Ford, 50, now is devoting more time to the Ford family tradition that goes beyond cars: leading efforts to improve the community.
And in this second career as a community activist, he is making a big splash. Last month, Ford unveiled plans for Detroit 300, a massive effort to recognize the city's 300th birthday through celebrations, education and community gifts.
'Edsel is a man who is energetic and very brilliant,' said Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, who persuaded Ford to lead the effort. 'He's still a young man, so his chapter is just now starting to be written. He's just beginning to write his own history.'
A FAMILY LEGACY
Edsel Ford II's contributions will join a long nonautomotive legacy left by the Fords who came before him.
Like his grandfather and namesake, who helped build the Detroit Institute of Arts, Ford is known as a humble yet capable executive and an important community leader who usually avoids the limelight.
Like his father, Henry Ford II, who helped build Detroit's Renaissance Center, and the great-grandfather who started the Henry Ford Health System, he likes to make big things happen.
'In most cases, I prefer working behind the scenes,' Ford said. 'I get a lot more done that way.'
Since retiring as president of Ford Credit, Ford has remained on the board of directors and taken select assignments. He said he now gives the automaker about 70 percent of his time, devoting another 30 percent to communitywide efforts.
Ford has been especially devoted to charities helping children.
'He's not considered a soft touch,' said Thomas McNulty, Henry Ford Health CFO. 'It's a labor of love for him.'
`FORD' OPENS DOORS
Peter Remington, a fund-raising consultant who is aiding the Detroit 300 effort, said Ford recognizes the power of his name and that its ability to open doors may be worth more than checks he could write.
Bill Beckham, president of New Detroit Inc. and member of the Detroit Public Schools reform board, is vice chairman of the Detroit 300 effort.
'He's willing to use his good fortunes to enhance the fortunes of the whole community,' Beckham said of Ford. 'He's willing to go and sit with the other leaders in the community who might not otherwise be accessible to us and use that sort of peer pressure to get them involved.'
Maud Lyon, executive director of Detroit 300, said Ford's presence 'brings a great deal of credibility to the whole effort.'
Besides being an active leader at every meeting, she said, Ford was able to provide the project with office furniture from Ford Motor Co. as well as valuable contacts.
Virgil Carr, CEO of United Way Community Services, said Ford was one of the first leaders who helped him when he arrived in Detroit, giving him an inside track into how the city works and how to get things done.
When Detroit turns 300, Ford said, he would like to know what his late father would have thought of all the changes.
'It's a magical time,' Ford said. 'If there was ever a time that one might want to be living in Detroit, this would clearly be the time.'