I was already reeling from the news out of Brussels this morning when I saw a headline that stopped me in my tracks. For a moment, I thought I was mistaken but, sure enough, the report said that Rob Ford, the former mayor of Toronto, had died.
What? How? Sure, I knew he was sick – my kids and I were just talking about his cancer treatments last weekend – but I had just seen a video of him in a hospital bed talking about how he was going to fight back like he always did. Only, this time, there was no coming back. He was just days from losing his battle.
Photo by Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Getty Images
I won’t sugarcoat it. The man was polarizing and controversial. He was even, at times, a hot mess. He admitted to using crack. He was seen in public drunk many, many times. He made comments that some viewed as racist or sexist. Still, he was also very loved by many people. Despite his wealth, he related best to the common working-class Canadian and those people, also known as “Ford Nation,” mourn for him today.
Back in June of 2014, Ford completed a two-month stint in rehab and, upon his release, said: ”I have made mistakes and all I can do right now is apologize for those mistakes. I love the work that I do and I’m going to keep doing it. I want to keep working for the people of this city.”
Before heading into politics, Ford and his brothers worked at the multimillion-dollar family business, Deco Labels & Tags, which was founded by his father, Doug Ford, Sr., who also served as an Ontario MPP. This sparked an interest among Rob and his brothers which led to them entering municipal politics.
In 2000, he was elected councillor for Ward 2 Etobicoke North (a surburb of Toronto) and gained quite a reputation for his commitment to the post, even returning phone calls to constituents personally. While he was brash and tried to cut costs, he also gave out his home phone number in an attempt to be accessible to the people he served. He rewarded them with his annual Ford Fest summer barbecue and by coaching a local high school football team.
By the time he ran for Mayor of Toronto in 2010, his approach to politics was well known in the area. He promised the taxpayers that he would “stop the gravy train” at city hall and won the mayoral seat of Canada’s largest city.
It wasn’t all roses, though. His personal life and demons became a real distraction during his time in office. When, in 2013, Ford admitted that he had smoked crack cocaine and added that it was probably during one of his “drunken stupors,” he gained international attention. He downplayed the reports and insisted that he was not battling an addiction. Unfortunately, the situation escalated some months later when videos of him acting erratically surfaced. Ford ended up taking a two-month leave of absence to enter into treatment for drug and alcohol abuse.
In 2014, Ford still had a lot of support for his re-election campaign when he was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive type of malignant tumor in his abdomen. This forced him to withdraw from the mayoral race (which prompted his brother, Doug, to throw his hat in the ring). The growth was removed the following year and it seemed as though there were no other signs of cancer in his body. Unfortunately, this past fall, Doug Ford announced that two new tumors had been found on Rob’s bladder. Despite treatment, Ford lost his life at just 46 years of age.
His chief of staff, Dan Jacobs, has issued the following statement:
“With heavy hearts and profound sadness, the Ford family announces the passing of their beloved son, brother, husband, and father, Councillor Rob Ford earlier today at the age of 46.
A dedicated man of the people, Councillor Ford spent his life serving the citizens of Toronto. The family asks that you respect their privacy and join them in their grieving and their prayers. The family will not be making any statements to the media or taking any questions. Information will follow at a later time regarding memorial services.
Over his decade and a half in municipal politics, Ford won a devoted following for being a straight talker who championed the average taxpayer.”
Regardless of what anyone thought of his politics, Rob Ford was a Canadian who wanted to make a difference. He was loved by many and will, undoubtedly, be mourned by his constituents, friends, and, of course, family.