Kathleen DuRoss Ford is the 79-year-old widow of Henry Ford II. She was his third wife. They were married from 1980 until his death in 1987. She is in ill health. She had a double lung transplant, then spinal issues that left her incontinent and in a wheelchair. Now Ford's daughters are alleging that her attorney and longtime companion Frank Chopin is abusing her. A judge ruled that Ford is no longer capable of making decisions about her life or her hundreds of millions in holdings. Ford's eldest daughter, Deborah DuRoss Guibord said that Chopin treats her mother horribly. She said he is disrespectful, condescending, he yells and is physically abusive. She wants Chopin, 77, to be stripped of his legal hold on her mother.
Guibord isn't the only one to characterize Chopin's treatment of Ford as abusive. Testimony in the abuse lawsuit from half a dozen nurses, personal assistants, and housekeepers backed up Guibord's claims that Chopin screams at Ford. They testified that he force-feeds her her pills by tilting back her head, shoving the dozens of pills down her throat, and then pouring water down her throat, often causing her to choke. He forbids the nurses from attending to her at night – he won't even let them turn her or change her wet clothes to prevent bedsores, which could be life-threatening. Additionally, Chopin removed the phone from Ford's bedroom and tells staff not to give her messages when family or friends call. According to testimony, Chopin controls what she eats, what she wears, where she goes, and who she talks to.
For what it's worth, Chopin denies all allegations vehemently. He became Kathleen Ford's adviser, confidante, live-in partner, and travel companion in the years since her husband died in 1987. Ford had a double-lung transplant in 2006. That she has survived in the 14 years since then, is a testament to her care, according to a doctor who treated Ford in October 2018 when she was rushed to the hospital because she couldn't breathe. Typically, only half of lung transplant patients live more than five years after their transplant. Another doctor testified that he examined Ford 30 times over the years and never saw evidence of abuse. Of course, verbal abuse doesn't leave physical marks.
Chopin's attorneys claim the allegations and lawsuit are a cash grab by Ford's daughters from her marriage prior to Henry Ford II. An attorney who represented Kathleen Ford in a similar dispute in 2016 gave testimony that Ford's daughters from her first marriage have been trying to get their hands on their mother's fortune for years. They've tried and failed to enlist the help of the Palm Beach police and the Florida Department of Children and Families.
For what it's worth, again, Guibord and her sister Kimberly DuRoss have received millions from their mother.
If this sounds like a brouhaha upending the life of a 79-year-old, well, you don't know Kathleen DuRoss Ford. Her life has rarely been calm and uneventful. She married her first husband L. David DuRoss when she was 15 years old. Her husband was an autoworker who played the trombone. She was widowed in 1959 when her husband died in a car accident. She was 19 with two young daughters and stunning good looks. She got work as a model to support her kids. She met Henry Ford at a party at his home in Detroit in 1969. He was married to his second wife at the time and halfway through his 34-year tenure as CEO of the family business. In 1980, Ford married Kathleen. She was 40. Ford was 63. They bought a home in Palm Beach, Florida and settled into married life.
Seven years later, Ford died at 70 of pneumonia, she was catapulted into a public battle with her stepson over a $350 million trust her husband left behind. The lawsuit settled in 1988, but the terms were kept private. Ford reportedly receives an annual allowance of $10.5 million, or 3% of the trust, which is quite a bit more than the $1.5 million a year her husband's will guaranteed.
To date, that adds up to more than $300 million. DuRoss Ford lives in a $44 million mansion that is part of the Ford family trust, in Palm Beach, Florida.
Chopin has been by Ford's side through all of this. He was her husband's trusted legal adviser. When Henry Ford died, he became her attorney and soon her constant companion at social events in Palm Beach and abroad. Ford's daughters visited their mother on holidays, such as Christmas and Easter – that is, at least, until Chopin cut off phone contact and took over her emails. Her daughters allege that Chopin has been slowing sinking his claws into her. The sicker and weaker Ford got, the more controlling Chopin became.
In February 2019, a court ruled that Ford was incapable of making her own decisions. During her interview, she didn't know the year, the date, or the day of the week. Ford thought she was 30 years old, had been married for 12 years, and lived with her parents. A trial was scheduled to determine whether or not Ford needed a guardian. That trial finally concluded in mid-December. The judge told the attorneys to come back in February to make their final statements. Then he would make his ruling.
Also in December, Kimberly DuRoss and her daughter filed a separate lawsuit against Chopin. That suit claims that Chopin squandered a trust that Ford created for her daughters and grandchildren.
Kathleen Ford signed legal documents in 1996 giving her power of attorney to Chopin as well as naming him her health car surrogate, according to Ford's attorney. She reaffirmed these decisions in 2012 and 2016, long before any questions about her mental state came up.
Guibord wants to be named her mother's guardian. She cared for her husband who passed away from early-onset Alzheimer's, so she is well-equipped to cater to her mother's needs. She even told the judge she'd be happy to have a professional caretaker appointed as co-guardian.
This case is ongoing. It sadly is reminiscent of the fight in the Redstone family over Sumner's mental capacity as well as a number of other high profile wealthy elderly people in the last years of their life. And of course, there is some irony in Deborah and Kimberly's lawsuit, since their mother had to go to court to secure the $10.5 million a year she's been enjoying since 1988.