TORONTO — Former Ontario premier Bill Davis was remembered Thursday as a political giant, a beloved family man and a kind mentor to many public servants.
Davis, the 18th premier of Ontario and one of the country’s longest-serving premiers, died in August at the age of 92. Family, friends and public figures paid their respects to him at a memorial service in downtown Toronto.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called Davis “a visionary” who played a major role in the patriation of the Constitution and the entrenchment of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Constitution.
“Bill’s goal was always to help people. That’s why he loved politics, because he knew it was there and he could get things done,” the prime minister said.
“And that’s what Bill Davis was all about — getting things done.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Davis touched “so many people’s lives, from his beloved family to those who had the privilege of working with him, to the countless Ontarians he impacted through his decades of public service.”
Davis won four consecutive elections. Often called Ontario’s “education premier,” he held the position from 1971 to 1985.
Ford praised Davis for creating Ontario’s college system, North America’s first Ministry of Environment and the province’s public broadcaster, TVO.
“His accomplishments are too many to list, but beyond all of them, Bill will be most remembered for his kindness and his humility,” he said.
Ford said Davis was “a giant of Ontario politics, but he never behaved that way.”
“You always got the sense that he thought of himself simply as Bill from Brampton and he’d be happier up in Georgian Bay than in talking about all he had done for Ontario,” he said.
Neil Davis, one of the former premier’s sons, said his father was not only a great politician but “a better person, a wonderful father, grandfather and great grandfather.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory said there were two people he’s tried to model himself after — his father and the former Ontario premier, who was a mentor and friend.
“For any of us to be able to consistently represent the kind of decency and balance and humanity and humility that he did would be a monumental personal achievement. I’m not sure anyone could do it as he did,” Tory said.
Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown also paid tribute to Davis, saying he “set the gold standard of public service” and will go down in history “as one of the great contributors to modern Canada.”
Davis died on Aug. 8 of natural causes at his home in Brampton.