This week, the media is filled with images of politicians and personalities lining up to pay their respects to former Mayor Rob Ford. From friends to political rivals, they line up, touch his casket, and remember him. It’s the right thing to do, to drop their political differences and pay homage to a man who stepped forward to represent people frustrated with Toronto’s leadership.
I tip my hat to Rob, to his ability to capture and vocalize the discontent that so many Toronto residents were feeling.
I grew to know and respect Rob during the 2010 election and that is how I am choosing to remember him.
The 2010 mayoral race began in January and ran for 10 long months. The number of debates that year exceeded anything Toronto had ever seen before and it meant the top five candidates saw each other almost every day, and sometimes two or three times in one day. When we arrived at each debate we’d be ushered behind stage to the waiting room where we’d wolf down lunch, or dinner, and chat for a bit before going on stage
It was before the debates, in those quiet moments waiting, that we all grew to know and respect each other. A camaraderie builds up behind the stage that supporters rarely see and it lasted long after the election because we all shared the same experiences together. Joe Pantelone was always the gentleman. He would smile and joke and was an easy man to talk to. George Smitherman always came into the room with a thick debate binder and an aid at his side. Rocco Rossi was usually loud and boisterous, friendly and full of energy. Rob on the other hand was usually very quiet. He was shy and after saying hello he would go and sit in a corner with one of his staff, drinking his “Big Gulp,” and checking his email. It took a while to get to know Rob, but eventually, over the months, we grew to respect each other.
The first opportunity I had to truly see Rob (without his stage personality) came after a debate. Following each debate the organizers would line us up for photos. Rocco Rossi was the tallest and when pictures were taken he would try to position himself beside Joe to make Joe look shorter. It was a political tactic that didn’t sit well with me. I noticed this and, wearing heels, I would try to jump in between them as a buffer. Rob noticed what was going on, and one day as we lined up for a group photo I realized I couldn’t get there in time. I looked at Rob and without saying a word, he stepped in between Rocco and Joe. That is the Rob I hope people will remember. He was a man who would quietly do the right thing.
Rob was a very shy man which made his outgoing actions during the campaign a testament to his inner bravery. He overcame his shyness in order to get on the stage and speak for the people.
As the hottest days of summer gave way to fall, our debates moved from small church basements to high school auditoriums. It was at one of the high schools that I learned a little more about Rob. He was standing in a hallway drinking his Big Gulp as we waited to go on stage. I was thinking about what the questions might be from the students and asked him if he were able to go back to high school and take another career path what he might chose to do instead. His eyes lit up and he smiled thinking about it. He told me that he had always loved the theatre and performing on stage. I nearly fell over, and he laughed, explaining that in high school he had a great drama teacher and had enjoyed every moment of it. The doors opened and we headed for the stage, Rob commenting — “it’s time to perform.”
Rob, your performance ended too soon. When Toronto needed you, you stepped up to the plate to fill the position. You loved this city and I hope one day, when your children look back at who their father was, they will know both your bravery and the quiet things that you did to help those around you. I hope you are in the arms of an angel now – rest in peace.