The circus that was Rob Ford came to a sad and tragic end on March 22 following his untimely death from a rare form of stomach cancer. Say what you will of Rob Ford, and many, including me, have had much to say, he was larger than life.
During my days with Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), I had the opportunity of meeting Ford on a few occasions. Bombastic, irreverent and obnoxious to a fault, you never knew what would come out of his mouth. Indeed, a few years after I left CJC, then-mayor Ford attended a meeting of Orthodox rabbis, ostensibly to discuss the establishment of an eruv. Ford’s speech that day to these rabbis pressed them to “squeeze councillors” for his pet project, funding a casino!
Shortly after that, I was present at the CJPAC (Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee) Action Party in 2013. That evening, just prior to leaving, I ran into an old friend and a former mayoralty candidate, Sarah Thomson. We chatted briefly, and as I took my leave, I shook hands with what appeared to be a very inebriated Ford as he was charging his way over to Sarah. The next morning, I saw the story in which Sarah accused the mayor of touching her inappropriately and demanded an apology.
But probably the most significant episode that proved to me the enduring and international impact of Rob Ford’s notoriety happened on a visit to Israel in April 2014.
At the time, I was working for my dear friend, philanthropist Dr. Michael Dan. Michael had a great many projects that he funded, ranging from helping to improve First Nations health and assisting reserves to build economic bases on their reserves to providing grants for homeless youth. I had the honour of assisting Michael in many of these worthwhile projects.
One project dear to Michael’s heart was the St. John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital, which is the only charitable provider of eye care in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza. Treating patients regardless of ethnicity or religion and despite inability to pay, the hospital is a bastion of medical expertise and tranquillity in an area that knows little of peace and health.
Michael was considering a large donation to their work and asked that I visit the hospital in east Jerusalem to get a first-hand view of its amazing efforts.
It was a first for me spending my time almost exclusively in the West Bank. I was taken to one of the eye hospital’s mobile clinics in the softly flowing hills outside Jerusalem, not far from Ramallah. Here, hundreds of Palestinians lined up for their eye examinations. Mostly poor shepherds, children, elderly men and women waited patiently in line for their turn to be examined.
I had the opportunity, with an interpreter in tow, to speak with many of those in line. One elderly shepherd who spoke a smattering of English approached me.
“Who are you?” he asked.
I explained that I was from Canada on a visit to better understand the workings of this marvellous hospital. He nodded sagely. “Ca-na-da” he said enunciating each syllable with great care.
“Yes” I nodded.
“Where from in Canada?’ he inquired.
“Toronto,” I told him at which time he broke out into a wide, beaming grin. “Toronto,” he exclaimed, “yes I know Toronto – Rob Ford!”
And there you have it. The notoriety and explosive character of our one-time mayor was known from the streets of Etobicoke to the Judean hills.
Rob Ford was a flawed man with characteristics many abhorred. And yet his death at such a young age should give us all pause. Despite his overblown and unwelcome antics, he was a beloved son, brother, husband, and father to two young children. He had a tumultuous time on this earth. I hope he has now finally found peace.