FLAT ROCK, Mich. - More than 400 Ford Mustangs and Ford Fusions were built under the watchful eye of Plant Manager Eli Williams – the youngest plant manager in Ford history.
Nine-year-old Eli became Flat Rock Assembly’s (FRAP) plant manager on Monday as part of an exclusive event to honor Eli’s courageous fight against brain cancer.
“The plant is in capable hands,” said Tim Young, FRAP’s mainstay plant manager, as he transferred his title to Eli for the day with a hearty shake of his hand. “Under your leadership, the plant will build several hundred perfect vehicles, I have no doubt. Who better to run it than a Mustang enthusiast like Eli?”
And enthusiast he is. Eli’s love of cars – and the Mustang in particular – has garnered attention from other fellow pony car lovers, leading to his one-day title and tour of the Flat Rock site.
First diagnosed in late-2011 with a brain tumor, Eli and his family have banded together to battle his ailment any way possible, which has included making sure Eli is energized by his favorite things. Among a wish list of trips and activities he’d always wanted to do, visiting the Mustang plant to see his favorite car come to life was at the top.
Not only did Eli get to commemoratively run the plant for the day, he and his family were treated to a guided tour of the facility to see how his favorite car comes together.
“It was awesome,” Eli said after the tour, adding his favorite part was “seeing the cars built.”
Eli wasn’t only boss for the day, he was the team members’ inspiration and hero, said Material Planning and Logistics Driver Kevin McFarland. As the Williams’ rode down aisle after aisle on the plant floor, team members chanted his name and cheered.
“That was quite an experience,” McFarland said, who drove the tour cart through the plant. “I’m proud of the people I work with. Everyone was stopping us and saying hi and giving him gifts and it was great. It’s so heartwarming. It really lifted the spirits of the plant and I think we did a good thing.”
Along with personal greetings from the plant leadership, UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles and Local 300 Plant Chairman Tony Bondy made an appearance to pass along their encouragement.
The six-member family wore matching blue tee shirts with “Eli the Eliminator” adorned across the chest and a monster truck scaling a mountain containing the word “cancer” across it.
Eli was presented with several Mustang-themed gifts including a 50th anniversary hat signed by Bill Ford, several model Mustangs and even his own plant safety vest signed by some of the team members on the line. He even got to ride shotgun as a freshly assembled cherry red Mustang convertible as it pulled off the final assembly line for the first time.
“I think all this was so phenomenal,” said Victor Williams, Eli’s father. “We appreciate everyone at the plant and Ford for doing all of this. We think it will really energize him. We’re very blessed to have so many supporters.”
The Williams’ trip didn’t end in Flat Rock, however. They were given tickets to that night’s Pistons game, and then taken on a guided tour of the Henry Ford Museum and Dearborn Truck Plant the following day.
Eli’s quest to defeat his cancer first popped up on the radar of Joe Curry, a Ford Credit employee at the company’s Nashville Business Center. Curry was moved by Eli’s story and his overwhelming passion for the Mustang. He passed along the family’s story through company channels, ultimately making Eli’s dream a reality.
“I truly appreciate everyone who had a part in this whole event,” Curry said, who was invited to join the family for their two-day trip. “The employees through the plant knew his story and knew his name. They had a heartfelt spirit for Eli. I feel very grateful to be a part of it all.”
Click here to read how one Ford Credit employee became the engine to make Eli’s dream come true.
While Eli's family watches, Tim Young, FRAP’s mainstay plant manager, presents him a 50th anniversary hat signed by Bill Ford.
Tim Young, FRAP’s mainstay plant manager with Eli.
Eli with Joe Curry, a Ford Credit employee who helped make his dream come true.
Eli with a Boss Mustang.
Eli and Kristie Williams during a tour of FRAP.
Eli is given a gift during the tour.
FRAP employees present Eli with his own plant safety vest signed by some of the team members on the line.
Eli rides shotgun as a freshly assembled cherry red Mustang convertible as it pulled off the final assembly line for the first time.