Tom Walsh: Global Ford family fights type 1 diabetes


From Detroit Free Press

When 4-year-old Albert Ford was diagnosed in 1997 with Type 1 diabetes, his father, Edsel Ford II, went to officials of the family business and asked, “Hey, what are we doing on this?”

He was pleased to hear that Ford, where Edsel was a board director of the company founded by his great-grandfather Henry, already had a relationship with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation dating back to hosting a 1983 JDRF fund-raiser walk in Dearborn.

“That’s great,” he said, “what can I do to help?”

A year later, the employee-driven Ford Global Walk Team was formed, with Edsel Ford as its corporate chair. It has since raised more than $43 million for diabetes research, making Ford the JDRF’s largest fund-raising partner worldwide.

While type 1 diabetes is clearly a personal story for Edsel, his wife, Cynthia, and son Albert, Edsel Ford is quick to spread credit and thanks to Ford’s employees, dealers, suppliers and others around the world.

“This is a different situation, not Ford Motor Co. doing this, but people all over the world, doing walks, barbecues, motorcycle rides, raffles, jeans days, because they want to do it. We have incredibly generous employees,” Edsel Ford said in a phone interview last week.

“There were 19 plants in metro Detroit that raised $200,000 last year. In Dearborn alone, 25 salaried employee teams raised a half-million dollars.”

Of the $43 million raised in Ford-associated events over the years, only about $9 million was direct corporate giving. “The rest is from individuals. That’s a lot of bake sales,” he said.

Ford and its ad agency, Team Detroit, were among the sponsors — along with Huntington Bank, Honda and others — last Friday at the annual JDRF Promise Ball at the MGM Grand Detroit.

The event raised $770,000 for an artificial pancreas project that links an insulin pump to a continuous glucose monitor for type 1 diabetics. Edsel and Cynthia, a JDRF board member, were among nearly 400 people at the gala.

In 2011, the research foundation shortened its name to the acronym JDRF, dropping the word juvenile to reflect that 81% of all type 1 diabetics in the U.S. today are adults.

“Diabetes touches millions and millions of Americans,” Edsel said. “My son wears an insulin pump. There’s never a time when it’s not around him. It’s an incredible disease. Your pancreas shuts down completely, so if you don’t take insulin, you die.”

And how is Albert doing now, at 21 years of age?

“He’s in good shape,” Edsel said. “His blood sugars are fine. He’s at Georgetown University, studying politics and government. Thanks for asking.”