Ford Nation says farewell

Loyal to the end, supporters of Rob Ford—Toronto’s populist ex-mayor—lined up at City Hall to pay respects to a man who ’had some demons’ but ’loved the city’

The first person in line, arriving at 8:15 a.m. on a grim Monday morning, is Marta Galdamez, a 60-year-old immigrant from Honduras, carrying an umbrella and a selfie stick. She met Rob Ford at one of his community barbecues shortly after she got laid off from UPS, and now she watches a squad of ceremonial police officers shuffle his casket inside. “No words,” she says.

On a holiday when Toronto City Hall would otherwise be closed, hundreds of Torontonians proceeded single file, double-time, past Ford’s closed casket. Seventeen City Hall employees, along with 21 police officers and the funeral home staff, oversaw the two-day public wake—unprecedented for a former mayor who died after leaving office—before a public funeral and private burial on Wednesday. When Galdamez walks by to pay her respects, she strides right past the barricade and strokes the casket head to foot. She says Ford wouldn’t have minded: “Whenever security said ‘stay away,’ he would say ‘it’s okay.’ ”

The hour-long line, weaving through the lobby and outside, included a meat factory worker, boom operator, man with face tattoos and woman in a wheelchair with an IV pole. Most felt that the populist Ford was the only politician who genuinely cared about them. “He loved the city,” says Tony Govas, a 45-year-old man currently looking for work through community services. “He loved the homeless people. He used to walk into those buildings where there’s cockroaches and bed bugs and, like, feces in the stairwell. I’m not going to say anything bad about John Tory, but I haven’t seen him walk into those buildings.”

Related: Charlie Gillis on Rob Ford’s political legacy

Margaret Eves is a crossing guard who met the Fords at a New Year’s event. “Doug and Rob offered to let me use the scales [at their family’s gym] to lose weight,” she says. “I came to tell Doug I landed a job where it takes me 15 minutes to walk to work. My clothes do feel a little looser.” When one family from Milton greets Doug, he tells them, “we’ll take care of everyone across the country. God bless you.”

Despite scandals including alcoholism, smoking crack and flipping off a mother and her six-year-old daughter in traffic, supporters forgive the Fordian slips. “I know he had some demons inside of him,” says Govas, “but I loved the man.” Jose Sanchez, a 64-year-old visitor, says, “Jesus loves everybody … I would vote for him 100 times.” Even people who didn’t vote for Ford show up. “I think he kept us on our toes and put Toronto out there,” says visitor Susan Zalepa. “It was, ‘What’s he going to do next?’ ”

Ford skipped council meetings, rerouted a public bus to pick up his football team and never showed up to a Pride parade. “He had his right,” says Yvonne Blackwood, “just like everyone else has their rights.” Another visitor, Denise Faulkner, commends Ford’s ability to recover from addiction. “At the end, he made closure,” she says. “He became a better dad and a better person. I think Rob Ford was a great human being. I’m all about Ford Nation. He was a teddy bear.”

Related: ‘Nobody didn’t care’: Ford’s ex-chief of staff Mark Towhey on letting go

Although the late mayor afforded endless controversy, visitors remember him for his efforts such as declaring public transit an essential service, ending a $60 vehicle registration tax and lowering the amount of postage his office sent out when the price of stamps rose by 22 cents. “The little things are important,” says Blackwood. Ford also coached football, gave $400 as a wedding gift to one constituent, fixed a pothole for another and hosted parties in his backyard for all. “When he died, it was sort of like 9/11 and JFK,” says Darrell Nightingale, a 60-year-old heavy machinery operator. “When you hear that, you run straight to the TV.”

As much as the visitors want to pay respects to Ford, they also hope to console the family, including his eight- and 11-year-old children Doug and Stephanie. “Little Dougie doesn’t really know what happened,” says Govas. Yet, he is sure, “Rob’s up there. He’s watching us. I never used to believe that, but I believe that 100-thousand per cent, and he’s smiling.”

After Galdamez passes the casket, she latches onto Doug, who rubs her on the back, then takes photos of herself to share online and writes in a book of condolences. “Even if you didn’t win,” she writes to Rob, “I still feel you are our mayor.” She ends with advice for eight-year-old Doug: “Little Ford, follow his footsteps.”

Photo gallery: Torontonians pay their respect to Rob Ford, lying in repose

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