Rob Ford was remembered Wednesday not for the controversies that earned him global notoriety but rather as a rare politician with the common touch whose young daughter said is the “mayor of heaven now.”
Hundreds of loyal supporters waving Ford Nation flags filled the street outside his funeral in mourning, and some openly wept as his casket wound its way from city hall to nearby St. James Cathedral.
The funeral ended a week of unprecedented public grief in Toronto for Ford, whose often erratic behaviour and drug use in office briefly made him the world’s most infamous mayor.
Eulogizers repeatedly mentioned the connection Ford made with residents during his nearly two decades as a city politician, a bond forged by his help-the-little-guy appeal and the personal approach he took returning constituents’ calls and ensuring nuts-and-bolts problems were dealt with.
Ford’s 10-year-old daughter Stephanie said he “helped a lot of people. He was also a great dad.”
Ford’s 8-year-old son Dougie and widow Renata were next to her, with Renata holding Stephanie and weeping as she spoke.
Numerous dignitaries attended the solemn service, including Premier Kathleen Wynne, Lt.-Gov Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Ontario Tory Leader Patrick Brown, Mayor John Tory and other municipal and provincial politicians.
Doug Ford called his brother a political force unto himself — the “party of the people” supported by voters of all stripes.
“Rob was the champion of the teen. He was the champion of the immigrant, the new Canadian, the union worker, the front-line worker and champion of the little guy,” he said, tears in his eyes.
He vowed the populist movement Ford created and embodied would live on.
“Ford Nation will continue. We’ll continue respecting the taxpayers.”
Speakers included former Ontario premier and family friend Mike Harris — who said Ford was unfairly “attacked by his foes in the media” — and a former player on the Don Bosco Secondary football team Ford coached until his dismissal for comments about the school.
“He showed us right from wrong and steered us onto the right paths,” Clinton Leonard said, voice breaking. “Rest in sweet paradise coach Ford. We love you.”
In his homily, St. James’ Rev. Andrew Asbil touched on the paradoxes that made Ford so renowned.
“You and I, no matter how hard we try, will never have the same notoriety nor popularity nor household fame as Rob Ford,” he said.
“Very few of us in this room know what it’s like to carry the burden of living your failings and your weaknesses in such a public way as Rob Ford. And – this is important – very few of us will know what it’s like to experience the love and admiration of so many for the work that we do in the same way as Rob did.”
Ford’s casket laid in repose at the heart of city hall for two days preceding the funeral, a rare honour that saw thousands come to say goodbye.
The funeral was followed by a private burial. A public “celebration of life” is being held Wednesday evening at the Toronto Congress Centre in the ward long dominated by Ford.
Ford died last week from cancer at the age of 46.