As a longtime environmentalist, how does he justify burning so much jet fuel? "Although I have eight airplanes," he quips, "I fly only one at a time." Turning serious, he gestures to the Citation and says, "I have the most efficient engine on my airplane that you can possibly have." For the past 20 years Ford has offset his carbon footprint with efforts on behalf of Conservation International, an environmental nonprofit. As the organization's vice chair, he meets with CEOs and international leaders. "He has extraordinary intellectual capability and applies it intensively so that we can be effective around the world," says Conservation International CEO Peter Seligmann. Example: Ford has helped the organization persuade Walmart to sell more sustainable food products.
He has set aside for conservation almost half of his 800-acre ranch in Wyoming, at the foot of the Tetons, abutting the Snake River. By banning elk hunting on the spread, he has created a refuge for the animals that live on the property. "I love the ethic of the West," he says. He notes that the minister at this morning's funeral extolled 10 western virtues that Blake Chapman lived by, including: "Finish what you start, be tough but fair, take pride in your work, do your best," says Ford. With maturity, he says he's getting better at living up to these values.
He has four grown children from his first two marriages, as well as three grandchildren. A native of suburban Chicago, he headed to Los Angeles as a college dropout and aspiring actor in 1964, accompanied in a Volkswagen Beetle by his college girlfriend (and new bride) Mary Marquardt. The couple, who divorced in 1979, had two sons — Ben (now 44) and Willard (42) — while Ford took small acting jobs and supported the family as a top-notch carpenter. "I had my first children when I was 24," he says. "Babies raising babies is maybe not the prettiest thing in the world to watch."
Ford's breakthrough as a teen hot-rodder in American Graffiti in 1973 led George Lucas to cast him in 1977's Star Wars. A few years later he was playing Colonel Lucas in Apocalyse Now when he met Francis Ford Coppola's assistant, Melissa Mathison; she became a screenwriter (best known for E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial), and his second wife in 1983. During his peak acting years, Ford was often away on location while the couple's two children — Malcolm, now 24, and Georgia, 21, attended school in New York City. He spent long holidays with them in Wyoming, but the separations were difficult. "My wives have been good mothers," he says with genuine appreciation.