Rep. William D. Ford, an old-fashioned labor and lunch-pail liberal who served his working-class Michigan district in the U.S. House of Representatives for 30 years, died Aug. 14 at his home in Ypsilanti Township, Mich., of complications from a stroke. He was 77.
Rep. Ford, a Democrat, represented Michigan's 15th and -- after boundaries were redrawn -- 13th districts from 1965 to 1995. He was chairman of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee and the Education and Labor Committee.
Outspoken in his defense of everyday U.S. workers, whether in the automobile plants of his home district or in the halls of federal agencies in Washington, he was never shy about using the power of his office or his combative oratory to spar with members of Congress or administration officials.
"He was a protector of working people," said former Rep. William L. Clay (D-Mo.), who served with him in the House for 25 years. "His whole career was based on the notion of the right of people to join together collectively."
In addition to his unflagging support of labor, Rep. Ford was known for his efforts to increase educational opportunities for families of limited means. In his freshman year in Congress, he sponsored the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which provided special assistance to poor school districts and was a key element of President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty.
In 1978, Rep. Ford sponsored the Middle Income Student Assistance Act, which expanded the college student loan program. In 1994, the Federal Direct Student Loan program was named in his honor to recognize his efforts to broaden educational opportunities across economic levels.
Rep. Ford was the author and principal sponsor of the Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, better known as the "Plant Closing Act" of 1989, which required companies with 100 or more employees to give at least 60 days' notice before layoffs or factory shutdowns.
In February 1993, he was instrumental in shepherding the Family Medical Leave Act through Congress, the first piece of legislation passed during President Bill Clinton's administration. The bill, twice vetoed by President George H.W. Bush, required employers to give workers as many as 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a family illness or childbirth.
"Bill Ford was a great leader for the education of our children," Clinton said in a statement. "Thanks to his long leadership in the Congress, millions of families and children have much better lives."
Rep. Ford repeatedly clashed with the Reagan administration over the dismissal of 13,000 federal air-traffic control workers in 1981. He argued that all of them should be rehired. In 1983, he called Reagan's plans to reduce the federal workforce "another example of the president's contempt for federal workers."
Rep. Ford was not related to either of his state's better-known Fords: the auto-manufacturing family or President Gerald R. Ford.
His father was a Scottish immigrant who worked in an auto plant and was killed in a factory accident -- a fact that influenced Rep. Ford's thinking and politics throughout his life.
William David Ford was born in Detroit and served in the Navy during World War II. After attending an automotive trade school, he became the first member of his family to go to a four-year college. He attended Wayne State University in Detroit before graduating from the University of Denver, from which he also received a law degree. He practiced law in Taylor, Mich., from 1951 to 1964.
He was a member of the Michigan Senate from 1962 to 1964, when he was elected to the House of Representatives with more than 70 percent of the vote. He was reelected 14 times until he retired in 1995.
Rep. Ford, known for his plainspoken, sometimes provocative rhetoric on the House floor, was an affable man, respected by colleagues on both sides of the aisle, Clay said. "But he wouldn't compromise on the things he believed in," he said. "He wouldn't compromise on civil rights and on the rights of workers."
In 1981, Rep. Ford, who drove Ford-produced vehicles, created a minor stir when he refused to give Capitol Hill parking spaces to staff members who drove foreign cars.
His marriages to Corrine Sletten Ford, Martha Ford and Mary Whalen ended in divorce.
Survivors include three children from his first marriage, William Ford Jr. of North Grafton, Mass., Margaret Ford Van Vleet of Cordova, Tenn., and John Ford of Alexandria; one brother; one sister; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.