Hazel McCallion will never forget the day that Rob Ford saved her from going for a swim in Lake Ontario while they were out on a salmon boat off Port Credit in 2013.
“It was not just the catch of the day, but the save of the day, too,” was the lead of my column at the time.
But we will get back to the fun.
First, McCallion, who plans to be at Ford’s funeral on Wednesday, wanted to make a point about the lessons learned from the Rob Ford saga.
“It was way over the top,” Mississauga’s former mayor said of both the media coverage and the political attacks. “They went after him on a conflict of interest to raise money for a football foundation to help kids play. That should never have happened.”
Having been through her own public conflict of interest battle and understanding the stress, she said, she fears the effect of the Ford fury may “be a detriment” in getting good people to run for politics.
And the fervor over personal failings and addictions was too much.
“It was awful,” she said. “Unacceptable.”
McCallion added: “The problem with the media is when they get on a bandwagon they don’t seem to know when to get off.”
Criticism of Ford or herself for city decisions or even errors, she said, is fine and expected.
“But it’s the personal attacks that I thought were wrong,” she said. “His family was brought into it. Rob showed me how media were on his property. I think a politician’s home should be off limits. People should not lose their freedom when they go into public office. Rob lost his freedom.”
McCallion said she’s not “surprised” so many are paying their respects as his body lies in repose at City Hall because “he appealed to the general public and dedicated himself to Toronto.”
But more important, she said, is his family’s loss.
“It’s such a shame,” the 95-year-old told me over a coffee in Streetsville Monday. “He was only 46 and has such a young family.”
We did the math and if you doubled Rob’s age it would it only be 92.
“It’s so sad,” she said.
But to happier times and some fishing to tales.
The first story was in August of 2011 aboard Capt. Dolly Erbrecht’s Salmon Express II when then-mayor Ford was unable to join his Mississauga counterpart and Great Ontario Salmon Derby Chair Walter Oster for a day of fishing. When Hazel landed a beauty, we decided to take the salmon to Ford at City Hall — a caper that garnered lots of laughs and a promise from Ford to come out another time.
In 2013, in the height of all the media frenzy around him, he did.
“I always told him salmon fishing is better in Mississauga’s section of Lake Ontario,” teased McCallion.
And with the salmon she hooked, McCallion felt she proved it. It was a 16-pounder and it fought as if were a jet boat.
It pulled Hazel to the stern of the boat.
“Rob was there with a bear hug to save me,” said Hazel with a smile, adding it was nice to see a guy “under such pressure,” have some laughs.
She said it saddened her those laughs did not last for long.
“I was worried about him,” she said.
But then came a package by courier to Mississauga City Hall that made her smile.
“There were two framed pictures,” she said. “One was of me with the fishing rod and Rob holding on to me and the other was all of us with the salmon.”
But what had her choked up Monday was what he hand wrote on the one of them.
“To the world’s best mayor! Rob Ford xo.”
Hazel said she cherishes that picture and says it means a lot coming from another “great” mayor.
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