Diane Ford, the mother of Premier Doug Ford and the late mayor of Toronto Rob Ford, died in her Etobicoke home Sunday following a battle with cancer. She was 85.
In a statement, the Premier’s Office described the Ford family matriarch as “an active member of her community who supported numerous charitable causes.”
“But most of all, she was the rock for her family, especially her 10 grandchildren. The Ford family is extremely grateful for the outpouring of support from members of the community in recent weeks,” the statement reads.
Diane Ford had long been seen — since the days Rob Ford was first on council and making a run for mayor in 2010 — as a key decision-maker in the family.
She had an influential role in family meetings discussing her sons’ political futures. She headed the family alone following the death of Doug Ford Sr. in 2006, who had been diagnosed with colon cancer.
She met her husband at in the 1950s when he was working as a lifeguard. In a 2014 interview, Doug Ford recounted his parents’ courtship. His father asked Diane if she wanted a ride home. “There was a Caddy and a Lincoln. She was all excited. And in between was a Triumph motorcycle. ‘Hop on, ’ he said.
“They had just oiled the road to keep the dust down and he wiped out. Mom went one way, the bike went the other — and my dad went over to check on his bike first.”
The story would garner laughs at family gatherings but there was never any doubt of the love and commitment Diane had for her four children — Randy, Doug, Rob and Kathy — and her grandchildren.
Ford long supported her family’s political aspirations, as she watched Rob and Doug follow in her husband’s footsteps to become elected officials. She was standing beside Rob when he was elected mayor in 2010, her arm raised with his in celebration. And she was there too when Doug was voted into Queen’s Park, to become premier.
She fiercely stood by Rob when her son was ensnared in repeated controversies involving drugs and alcohol in the years before his 2016 death from cancer.
In a 2013 interview with CP24, she praised her son’s “strong character” and confidently said there was nothing her son “can’t recover from.”
“He did what he did, he made a mistake, he admitted to his mistake, “ she said.
Ford was also very close with grandson Michael Ford, now a city councillor, whom she partly raised. As the younger Ford stepped into a political dynasty, claiming his uncle’s Etobicoke North council seat in a 2016 byelection following Rob’s death, the matriarch was right there beside him. The CBC reported that Diane Ford ruffled Michael’s hair at a celebratory event in Etobicoke, then turned to the TV cameras and said: “He’s going to be the future mayor.”
Doug Holyday first met Ford in 1994, when he successfully ran for mayor of Etobicoke. He said her remembers her as a hardworking woman committed to the personal lives and political careers of her children.
“It is a very close family and she was the impetus of that happening,” Holyday said. “She tried to keep them on the straight and narrow as best she could. I’m sure she was deeply hurt by some of the things that involved Rob but I think she was greatly pleased by the successes the boys had.
“They worked hard to get it and she showed them the way. She set the example of the hard work.”
Ford’s family home was often the setting for her sons’ campaign events and press conferences. Over the years, she opened her backyard to thousands each year in hosting Ford Fest.
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In a statement, Mayor John Tory said he had known Diane Ford for 25 years and expressed his condolences to the Ford family.
“Throughout the 25 years I have known her, Mrs. Diane Ford was so obviously the matriarch of the Ford family and that is why I know they will miss her so much,” Tory said.
“She was dedicated to her Etobicoke community but nothing surpassed her dedication to her family and the very special role she played in their lives.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath joined other members of provincial parliament in offering their sympathies. “The Ford family is in our hearts and thoughts as they grieve this deep loss,” she said in a statement.
“I hope the family can find strength in each other, and comfort in community, and may warm memories of Mrs. Ford help the Ford family through this difficult time.”
In the statement from the Premier’s Office, the family thanked Ford’s caregivers “for their compassionate care.”