Born in Greensboro, N.C., he was the son of William Wells and Rebecca Ford Smith. He moved to Baltimore as a child and attended Booker T. Washington Junior High School. He was a 1953 graduate of Frederick Douglass High School, where he played football and basketball.
Mr. Ford excelled as a high school athlete, and his photograph appeared in the Baltimore Afro-American.
"He loved to play sports, and he competed against teams from Dunbar and Carver in the days when there were only three black high schools in Baltimore," said Clifton Johns, a classmate and longtime friend. "In order to make up a schedule for the team, we had to go to Annapolis and play Wiley Bates School and to three schools in Washington."
Mr. Ford also attended what is now Morgan State University.
For nearly 30 years, Mr. Ford lived on McKean Avenue in West Baltimore.
"He was friendly and loved to play pinochle. We began at 5 in the evening and didn't finish until the wee hours of the morning, except on Sunday, when we had to go to church," said Beulah Carter, a neighbor and friend who now lives in Randallstown.
Nearly 60 years ago, Mr. Ford was hired as an auto assembler at the old General Motors Chevrolet plant on Broening Highway in Southeast Baltimore. He joined the United Auto Workers and rose through the union's ranks.
He was a shop committeeman and was later named to serve on the staff as an international representative of the union's Region 8, which covered workers along the East Coast.
"He was strong at negotiating contracts. He was articulate, and people listened to him," said his wife, the former Delores E. Hinton.
Mr. Ford was also active in the civil rights movement. He attended the August 1963 March on Washington and heard the Rev. Martin Luther King give his "I Have a Dream" speech.
He was a member of Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and led marches and demonstrations at auto plants in the South in the 1980s. He was the civil rights coordinator for Region 8 of the United Auto Workers and served on the international union's civil rights advisory council.
He retired from the United Auto Workers and General Motors in 1991.
He was a life member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and was a 1984 delegate to its national convention. He also served on its national executive committee. He was a member of the Maryland Chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute and attended its conventions.
Mr. Ford stopped playing contact sports many years ago and became an active golfer. He was a regular at the Clifton Park, Mount Pleasant and Carroll Park courses.
He was a member of a group of golfers who called themselves, T and T, for Tuesdays and Thursdays. They traveled throughout the state and Pennsylvania on those days to play.
"All the guys wanted to play with him because of his sense of humor," said Mr. Johns.
A 33rd-degree Mason, Mr. Ford was a member of Hiram Grand Lodge on Eutaw Place.
Funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at Douglas Memorial Community Church, 1325 Madison Ave., where he sang in the sanctuary and men's choirs and served on the steward board.
In addition to his wife of 38 years, a retired Social Security Administration service representative, and his mother, survivors include a son, Michael C. Ford of Chicago; a stepson, Roderick Craig Knight of Randallstown; two brothers, William Smith of District Heights and Percy Smith Jr. of Fort Walton Beach, Fla.; and two grandchildren.