Caribbean Ford Nation bids farewell

During his mayoralty, Rob Ford gets some love during the Carnival Parade. Gerard Richardson photo.
During his mayoralty, Rob Ford gets some love during the Carnival Parade. Gerard Richardson photo.

Former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is being mourned by the Caribbean community in which he had many supporters and admirers,

Councillor Ford died Tuesday at Mount Sinai Hospital following a battle with a rare and aggressive form of soft tissue cancer known as pleomorphic liposarcoma.

Ford’s family released a brief 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.”

Rob Ford connected with the Caribbean community. Gerard Richardson photos.
Rob Ford connected with the Caribbean community. Gerard Richardson photos.

Mayor John Tory says the city government is working with the family on funeral arrangements, which had yet to be announced at press time on Wednesday. An impromptu memorial in Douglas B. Ford Park, named for his father, is attracting hundreds of tributes from citizens.

Ford was known for his personal contacts with many residents in all Toronto’s communities, his attendance at the CARIBANA Parade and each summer the Caribbean community was part of the thousands who would converge at his mother’s Etobicoke house for an annual free event called Ford Fest.

His thousands of supporters became known as Ford Nation.

President and CEO of the Canada-Caribbean Business Council George Ramocan told The Camera, “I offer my condolences. Rob Ford was certainly a very popular former mayor who was famous for putting Toronto on the world stage. I do think he was very sincere in terms of his commitment to doing good.”

Jamaican-born businessman Ramocan said the ex-mayor was courageous in all his struggles, including his fight against cancer, when Ford said “Be strong, stay positive and never, ever give up.”

“I will remember him as one who took a stand for the rights of Christians, served the community and loved people. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time,” educator Christina Persaud told The Camera. Persaud is married to Guyana-born Pastor Donnie Persaud of East Scarborough Pentecostal Worship Centre.

Dewitt Lee, who competed in two races against Ford, said, “I offer my condolences to not just his family and friends but his colleagues on the City Council and his constituents. Today I lost a son and lost a father. Mr. Ford, the politician – he and I clashed a lot. Mr. Ford, the person -we laughed a lot.

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“After all of that opposition from myself and my camp he was always supportive of me in private as an up and coming leader in the political space. I will never forget the laughs that we shared in private, us both being football fans and coaches, we were able to connect in a unique and genuine way.”

Ford made an impact with the Caribbean community, as witnessed at the Jamaica Canadian Association during the mayoral debate when he was treated like a rock star. At CARIBANA he was the centre of attention with his regular stint working the crowd and the beautiful ladies, connecting with the masses and the massives.

Ford’s passing has elicited a range of opinions across the city and beyond. Books of condolence are available at various city locations for residents to record their thoughts. Condolences can also be contributed at the city website.

As for Ford, he offered this philosophy of life in October after announcing that his cancer had returned: “Live every day to the fullest. If you get something done, do it. I sleep eight hours a day, the rest of the time I return phone calls, I help people out and I do whatever my kids want to do and whatever my wife wants to do.”

Known for paying his council expenses from his own pocket and providing his cell phone number to all those he helped, Ford’s time in the public eye, particularly as mayor, was also scarred by offensive remarks, eventual admission to using crack cocaine and a battle with alcohol that included stints in rehab.

Ford was a volunteer football team coach at Don Bosco high school for 10 years but was eventually asked to leave when his mayoralty became tainted, including a verbal spat with then-Toronto police chief Bill Blair.

Statements on Ford’s passing included a tweet from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Rob Ford fought cancer with courage and determination. My condolences and best wishes to the Ford family today.”

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne released a statement saying in part, “It was with deep sadness that I learned that former Toronto mayor Rob Ford has passed away.”

Tory said, “He was true to himself. His time in City Hall included moments of kindness and generosity to his council colleagues and real efforts to do what he thought was best for Toronto. He was above all else a profoundly human guy whose presence in our city will be missed.”

As the son of the late Doug Ford Sr. a former MPP and wealthy businessman, Ford grew up in a family with a strong tradition of political involvement and community service, becoming a city councilor at just 31 for Ward 2 Etobicoke North, where the family lives. He served three terms in that roll before being elected as mayor of Canada’s largest city in 2010. His brother Doug also served on city council.

Despite his privileged background, Ford successfully portrayed himself as a regular guy, rallying against  “downtown elites” he claimed had an outsized role in Toronto politics and vowing to end “the gravy train” of spending.

Ford is survived by his wife Renata and his young children, Doug Jr. and Stephanie.