Shelby County Commissioner James Ford _ an ophthalmologist and pastor (of the Fellowship Church of God in Christ) who was respectfully referred to by his commission mates as Dr. Ford -- died early Tuesday morning at Methodist Healthcare-South, from the effects of cancer. He was 52.
Although it had been clear for some time that Commissioner Ford, a former member of the Memphis city council and the holder of a law degree, was seriously ill-- he was confined to a wheelchair for the last several years-- he was still able to perform his duties as a commissioner vigorously. This was most notable during the last year when he was chairman of the commission and oversaw the resolution of several tough issues-- including prolonged and stormy debates over school funding and the use of public money to construct a new arena for the transplanted Vancouver Grizzlies of the NBA.
Even when he was relatively healthy, Commissioner Ford was mild of manner and polite, even courtly, to an extreme. Conversely, even when he was in the throes of his illness, he was capable of quite firm, robust responses to opponents or, as was the case in one or two of the past years stormier meetings, to audience members who ventured to heckle commissioners. He did not suffer fools gladly.
He had as much resolve as anyone I ever knew, even in his illness, and he had great academic achievements, observed his nephew, U.S. Representative Harold Ford Jr., who pointed out that Commissioner Ford had attended more or less concurrently Columbia University Medical School, Union Theological Seminary, and New York University School of Law.
He was a worthy representative of the extended Ford family which has produced so many notable politicians _ including, at present, a congressman, a city councilman, and a state senator. Early speculation took it for granted that a member of the family _ possibly brother Joe Ford, who left his council seat to run for city mayor in 1999, or nephew Jake Ford _ would be named by the commission to succeed him.
Funeral arrangements, as announced by the family funeral home, N.J. Ford and Sons, are as follows: Dr. Ford will lie in state at the funeral home on Friday and Saturday, and the funeral will be at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Temple Deliverance Church of God in Christ at 369 Patterson Avenue. The family specifies that, in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the American Cancer Society or to the N.J. and Vera Ford Endowment Fuind at LeMoyne-Owen College