I can’t claim to have been friends with Rob Ford, the infamous former mayor of Toronto. But I did spend a little time with him back in the mid-1990s, while volunteering on a minor by-election in his family’s home turf of Etobicoke. He was always incredibly friendly and helpful and full of energy, always ready to go the extra mile to help.
For instance, a couple of times I worked late on the campaign and missed my ride, and Rob would drive me all the way to the Yorkdale bus station, cheerfully and without reservations. The drive would take a while, so we’d shoot the breeze: sometimes talking sports, sometimes family and life, sometimes politics. I remember once trying to make a conservative case for gay rights (it was the mid-1990s—pre-Friends—and such things were much less accepted then), and I said something like “Gay people don’t want ‘special rights.’ The biggest thing gay people want is not to be beaten up for being who they are.”
Rob’s response was emphatic: “I would never beat up a gay guy!”
Followed by: “You’d get blood all over your hands and get AIDS.”
So … yeah. Rob Ford. An incredibly giving, energetic guy. An incredible asshole.
Even back then he was already pretty much the same guy who became infamous as a politician. Minus the crack. His father was the patriarch, and his older brother Doug seemed to be the one heading for big-time politics. If you had told me back then that Doug would one day be mayor of Toronto, I would have believed it. If you said that Rob would one day be caught on video smoking crack, I probably would have believed that. But Rob as mayor? Not so much.
And now he has died. I won’t pretend he was anything that he wasn’t. I know he hurt a lot of people. But he was very nice to me and was fun when I spent time with him. And I suspect he may have been bipolar or had some other similar issues going on, given his substance abuse issues, wild energy swings and related problems. That doesn’t excuse the bad things he did, but I do think he deserved some understanding.