TORONTO — Rob Ford, Canada's best-known former mayor, was eulogized Wednesday as a consummate politician and loving father whose serious personal failings garnered international notoriety but only passing mention on a day devoted to saying a final goodbye to him.
In a packed downtown cathedral, family, dignitaries and members of the public paid their respects to the leader of "Ford Nation," who captured as much attention in death as he did in life.
"He's the mayor of heaven now," Ford's daughter Stephanie, 10, told the service as her younger brother Dougie stood by her side. "He helped a lot of people. He was also an amazing dad."
Ford, a loved-or-loathed larger-than-life politician, became a certified celebrity in light of his admitted crack cocaine use, alcohol abuse, lewd comments and at times outrageous behaviour that transformed his mayoral office into an unprecedented spectacle.
It was left to Rev. Andrew Asbil, rector of St. James cathedral, to note the improbable heights of both adulation and infamy that Ford scaled as mayor.
"You and I, no matter how hard we try, will never have the same notoriety nor popularity nor household fame as Rob Ford," Asbil said in his homily.
"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, whose clarion call was "time to stop the gravy train," died last week at age 46, 18 months after a cancer diagnosis scuttled his bid for a second term as mayor, although he easily won election as a councillor in his west-end ward.
For two days this week, he was granted the rare honour of lying in repose at city hall, where thousands filed past his Toronto-flag-draped casket.
On Wednesday, a procession saw him leave city hall one last time for St. James, where scores who were unable to get inside waited patiently on the lawns.
Evelyn Cappelli, among those who made it into the service, called Ford "a man for the people."
"He told the truth — a lot of people do not like to hear the truth — but he was just a great guy," Cappelli said. "Unfortunately the press sort of did him in by all that adverse publicity but, on the other hand, the press did him a favour: He got all that free publicity."
Former Ontario premier Mike Harris called Ford, mayor from 2010 to 2014, a city hall "breath of fresh air," while his brother, Doug Ford, highlighted how his untimely death had brought people of different views together.
"Today, we're putting our political differences aside: We're here for the Rob Ford party, the party of the people," Doug Ford said. "Rob, I'm going to miss you like crazy but don't worry: Ford Nation will continue."
Earlier, cheers rose from the crowds when Ford's wife, Renata, blew kisses to the masses as her husband's casket was lifted into a hearse outside city hall. Family members — some sobbing quietly — stood nearby.
Along the procession route, some in the crowd sporadically broke into song, while others waved "Ford Nation" flags or chanted "mayor for life."
Heather Hogben-Bruce, who attended the cathedral service that preceded a private funeral, called Ford a "very loved" man.
"He has done a lot for the people of Toronto, especially the little people. He was the people's mayor," she said. "Nobody's perfect and I think he's an incredible man."
Later in the day, Ford Nation gathered by the hundreds at the Toronto Congress Centre to celebrate all things Rob Ford. Slideshows of the former mayor flashed on big screens and a live band played, much of it Bob Marley early before a heavy Rolling Stones set later on.
But it was Doug Ford who the crowd came to see. A huge mob crushed their way around him as he made his way to the stage to the Guns n Roses song “Sweet Child O Mine.”
Once there, Doug Ford delivered a short campaign-style speech.
“We’re going to continue what Rob started … It’s about respecting the taxpayer,” he said.
Randy Ford, Rob’s other brother, also held court taking selfies with the adoring crowd in north Etobicoke, not too far from the family’s homestead.
By Colin Perkel and Diana Mehta, The Canadian Press