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The woman behind the mayor: who is Renata Ford?

For a political wife, Renata Ford is an enigma—neither humanizing homemaker nor independent careerist. So who is she?

(Image: André Carrilho)

Renata Ford is the invisible wife. Most Torontonians caught their first glimpse of her on election night: a smiling, slender blonde, wearing a jacket constructed of leathery gold leaves and standing one step back from her triumphant husband. Immediately afterward, she disappeared from public view. Today Renata remains an enigma, the first mayoral spouse about whom almost nothing is known, including her age, background and occupation.

In Canada, the media generally regard political spouses as off limits. They are, after all, unelected and unpaid. Nowadays, as women out-earn their husbands, head up political parties and dominate graduate-school enrolment, there is less of an obligation or even an expectation for a political wife to play a public spousal role. David Miller’s wife, Jill Arthur, declined, but at least we knew she was a lawyer at the Ontario Court of Appeal.

So is the media discreet, or merely cowardly? You be the judge: a rumour has been circulating for months now about the infidelity of a high-level political wife in Ottawa, possibly involving a female RCMP officer. And yet not a whiff has made it into print (until now). It’s the kind of rumour tabloids and talk shows love in the U.S., Britain and France, and for good reason: a politician’s home life speaks to his character.

In Canada, deference to authority is embedded in our political DNA. We’ve never fought a war of independence, guillotined a king and queen or rammed a Magna Carta down the throat of a recalcitrant monarch. That doesn’t mean we aren’t curious about the personal lives of politicians. A literal bedfellow is a confidante, someone with a potential influence on public policy.

So what’s it like to be married to Rob Ford? A fiscal hawk might be great for taxpayers, but not so great if he’s your husband and (probably) the main breadwinner. I know that if I had two toddlers at home, I’d be less than thrilled if my husband spent hours every week coaching high school football, and occasionally brought home troubled team members for sleepovers. I’d ask, “Honey, where are your priorities?” The city has asked the same question. Surely the mayor of Toronto won’t have time for charity work. Ford’s reply: he’d give up coaching to tend to city business only if a suitable replacement could be found.

Imagine being married to someone who claims to have personally returned more than 200,000 calls in the past decade. A YouTube video of a campaign appearance shows Renata sitting at her husband’s side, nodding like a bobble-head doll, while he waves a fridge magnet with his telephone number on it and tells the audience, “I return phone calls personally.”

As this city’s mayor, will Ford ever stop being receptionist-in-chief? After I left several messages, I received one of his famous 54.8 returned calls per day (although exactly why he bothered is a mystery).

Ford: “Hi, this is Rob Ford.”

Me: “Wow. So you really do return calls.” I quickly repeated my voice mail—that I was a journalist, writing about him and Renata.

Ford: “All media has to go through Adrienne Batra.”

Me: “Well, can you at least tell me how old Renata is?”

Ford: “Sorry, you have to go through Adrienne.”

Me: “Can you tell me when you were married?”

Ford: “Sorry.”

Me: “Well, is your person going to set something up?”

Ford: “You have to go through her.”

Batra, his press secretary, and various assistants all declined my repeated requests for an interview with the Fords and refused to answer any questions.

What we do know is that Rob and Renata met during high school when they were living a couple of blocks apart. They were married in 2000 at St. George’s Golf and Country Club, one of the country’s finest golf courses and site of this past summer’s Canadian Open. Doug Holyday, Ford’s new deputy mayor, was there. Despite his long and close association with the family, Holyday says he hardly knows Renata. “I don’t even know if she has a job,” he told me.

George Spudic, a classmate of Ford’s since junior kindergarten who also attended the wedding, talks easily about his friend. “Everything you see with Robbie, he’s always been like that. He was the cheapest guy in high school. He had a football jacket he got in Grade 9, and he wore it until senior year. He always went home for lunch when he could have gone to the mall.” When it comes to Renata, however, Spudic clams up.

So why the veil of secrecy? It only makes journalists more curious—especially when Ford uses his family to burnish his image. In November, our new mayor, perhaps the only one in recent history with a mug shot, confided to the National Post that his “most relaxing” time is spent with his daughter, Stephanie, now five, and his son, Douglas, three. He added that his great escape is doing the laundry once the kids are in bed. “I divide the whites and the darks, and I’ll be folding clothes. I love it.”

Ford has also used the media to get out of sticky situations. After he was caught on tape suggesting to a fibromyalgia sufferer, “Why don’t you go on the street and score” some OxyContin, he and his handlers fed a story to the press saying he feared for his family’s safety and therefore was humouring the caller. In 2008, during a scrum following his now notorious domestic dispute, he used his daughter as armour. On the evening of March 26, the day of Renata’s 911 call, Ford stood holding Stepha­nie in the doorway of his mother’s home. A Star reporter asked if Renata was OK. “Yeah, everything’s fine. No problems here,” said Ford. His lawyer told the media that the previous night around 10:30 p.m., Ford himself had called 911 after walking in the door to “verbal abuse” from Renata. The lawyer added that Ford thought his wife’s behaviour was “irrational” and that he left for his mother’s house with the couple’s two children. Renata’s parents, Tadeusz and Henryka Brejniak, later told a reporter their daughter was seeing a doctor and “getting help.” When reporters wanted to talk to Renata, Henryka said, “There’s no way she can talk. She’s so upset.”

Ford was charged with assault and threatening death. The case went to court about two months later, but the Crown withdrew both charges, citing inconsistencies in Renata’s statements. Two years later, mysterious signs popped up on University Avenue: “Wife-beating, racist drunk for mayor!” To the media, Ford said, “I never laid a hand on my wife.” Within weeks, he was elected mayor, with Renata standing by his side.

While the human race keeps evolving, the particular species known as the political wife hasn’t. Some retrograde rule (or modern marketing guru) requires wives to stand by their men no matter what. Eliot Spitzer’s wife did, after he was caught in a prostitution ring. (Her story helped inspire the popular new TV show The Good Wife.) So did the late Elizabeth Edwards, at least initially, after her husband fathered a child with his mistress. Renata may have stood by her man on election night, but then she quickly retreated.

In November, I dropped by their home, a 1960s white-brick bungalow. In the driveway was a tan Chevy Uplander SUV with the vanity plates “Rob Ford.” A black plastic panther crouched by the front door. In addition to a few Christmas lights on the bushes, the lawn ornaments included two plastic snowmen, a small tinsel tree and random pots of plastic flowers. A small sign on the windowsill read “Welcome to our home.” I rang the doorbell, but if anyone was home, I wasn’t welcome.

So I decided to try the next-door neighbours. Seventy-seven-year-old Zdravko Gagro, a fervent Ford supporter, invited me in. He told me he was touched when, in 2003, he was in hospital for a double kidney transplant and Ford shovelled his driveway. During the election, his wife, Neda Gagro, baked a platter of Croatian goodies for Ford’s campaign office. But despite living side by side with the Fords for eight years and being on friendly terms, the Gagros said they knew very little about Renata, only that her parents came nearly every day to look after the children.

The Gagros and I sipped Croatian espresso from small china cups in their immaculate kitchen. Then Zdravko took me outside, where I had a clear view of the peeling shingles on Ford’s roof and his small, wedge-shaped backyard with its faded red-and-white Molson Canadian umbrella over the small patio table. Although some houses on Edenbridge Drive back onto parkland, Ford’s backs onto a municipal-truck depot and a community centre. Real estate records show that the three-bedroom house is about 1,200 square feet and was purchased in 2002 for $490,000.

To the Gagros, the state of Ford’s home is a sign of his integrity. “I think Rob is doing a good job,” says Neda. “He doesn’t own a fancy car or a fancy house. He spends nothing. That’s the type of mayor we need.” Her husband agrees: “The city needs somebody who will stop throwing money at bums.”

Before heading back to the subway, I decided to try the Ford house one more time. I had scribbled a note to Renata asking for an interview. When I rang the doorbell to drop it off, two beaming kids peeked out the windows. To my surprise, Renata’s mother, Henryka, answered the door. She accepted my note and told me her daughter would be with me in a few moments.

Standing alone at the entrance, I glimpsed a small house with worn floors and a popcorn-finish stucco ceiling. Dated polyester sheers hung in the living room window. The sofas were covered with old sheets and blankets. Fiscal hawk, indeed. Renata’s father then appeared in the kitchen and whispered something to her mother, who turned to me and said, “She’s not home. My husband says she went out.”

Ten days later, I dropped by the house for the second and last time. Again, Renata’s mother answered the door, and again, she said her daughter wasn’t home. I got back into the taxi, which was waiting in the driveway. Suddenly, the garage door rumbled open and a blue SUV backed out quickly, forcing us out onto the street. We couldn’t see who was driving. But when the taxi driver realized I was taking down the licence plate, he said helpfully, “It’s a Ford Escape.” We were both too shaken to hear the pun.

Perhaps a house is just a house. Or perhaps it says something more profound about a person. As we drove away, it occurred to me that if this bungalow reflects Ford’s vision for Toronto, if it is a metaphor for the future of our city, then maybe we’re all in for four hard years. Of course, that may be why so many of us voted for Ford in the first place. We’re all married to him now. For richer or for poorer, for better or for worse.

  • Mike

    The nation has no business in the bedrooms of the state.

  • Moderate

    Mayor Ford is the elected official and there is plenty to scrutinize. She has not put herself in the public sphere, so she is off limits. Move along TL.

  • David

    If Mrs. Ford chooses to speak to the media, she will speak. After all, it’s not as if she doesn’t know how or where to find them. Until then, if she’s content in her husband’s very large shadow, then good for her.

    Also, the reference to the rumours around the politician’s wife and the RCMP officer: tacky. I don’t like the people at the centre of this rumour and would be delighted to see them skewered–but the reason this hasn’t appeared in print is that, despite the efforts of seemingly hundreds of media personnel to unearth otherwise, the rumour is apparently trashy erotic fiction and sadly nothing more.

  • stella

    No kidding she won’t speak I would be embarrassed to be married to a selfish person like him. With new cuts to services to the disabled and the blind no wonder she would hide or him for that matter avoid the press. I could care less who he is married to as I won’t be voting him in again he is an arrogant self absorbed moron who should try and live on an ODSP or welfare diet and see how much weight he will lose.

  • realerman

    someone married that slob??!!
    poor dumb woman!!

  • lonewolf

    What’s with the obsession over age? I personally could care less how old a politician is. It’ll suffice to mention a general number,ie.30′s. As for political spouses,unless they choose to be in the public eye outside of staged moments,they should be allowed to live in privacy. Acts of indiscretion caught by the “public” are fair game. Contrast high profile off springs,President Bush’s twins had their moments,yet Chelsea Clinton stayed below the radar.

  • Kandeezie

    “a politician’s home life speaks to his character” Really? Maybe we’re more progressive in that we see wives aren’t the mushroom growing out the side of the tree, but a tree herself. Her business doesn’t reflect his or his ability to do his job. Woah with the patriarchy.

  • Rolf

    Good for Renata for keeping her private life private!

  • dumbstuff

    leave her alone, if she campaigned she would be fair game but she left this to him she wasn’t paraded around nor were her child(ren)

  • Brorack Brobama

    We don’t know anything about her that we didn’t at the beginning of the article. This is a complete non-story. Not to mention you are trying to make a story where there is nothing there, and being a little disrespectful of personal privacy. Some people can’t take a hint!

  • Cyberonimo

    No one is above the law, unless of course you are God and Ford you are not one! If this happened & if you were an Indian you would have been arrested & a no-contact would have been imposed until a court date but it seems if you are rich & famous & a BULLY then you can get away with anything! Renata take the children & run!! This BULLY can’t control you.

  • Nils Lofgrin

    Jan Wong is back at work, spreading her idiocy and crushing souls wherever she treads. In a just world, some half-bright kid out of the J program at Humber College would follow and harass Wong, peering into her home and hassling her neighbors, while blithely insulting her appearance (aged, unlovely), temperament (objectionable, calculating), and professional abilities (a sick, fucking joke.) Aside to Brorack Brobama: Calling Jan Wong disrespectful is like accusing a snake of being scaly and slime-covered. Precisely like that.

  • T. D. Votes

    Mrs. Ford is too scared to talk.

  • Daisee

    Sounds like the entire Ford family, in-laws included, are more than dysfunctional, they’ve crossed the rubicon. Rigidity, silence, blame & avoidance, chemical dependency, emotional abuse etc all useless coping mechanisms that can lead to some horrific outcomes. There is a pattern here and I feel for Mrs. Ford and her children, how will they ever find normalcy if they don’t know what normal is. Relative I know, but still……so sorry for them all.

  • Moran b eeghuzzar-rykala

    Rob ford = Walter White without brains/ability

  • No Fan

    If I was “married” to that BULLY I would have a mental meltdown too :(

  • Gingy

    If I was married to that no one would see me either….he’s probably just blocking the view or maybe she is hiding in shame.

  • Gingy

    Blasphemy! Ford is nowhere even close to being anything Heisenberg

  • Clementine4

    MAybe she is also embarassed because of the 911 calls when her lovely porcine husband beat her. Maybe she is a timid wife for hire?? I only feel for their poor kids.

  • sunbeamcatcher

    You know, Renata’s parents are survivors of Auschwitz. Polish Jews. Will that help you to understand the “dysfunctions” as you call it?

  • sunbeamcatcher

    Yup – her parents survived Auschwitz, she grew up with their memories. Now, will you get off her back?

  • Dave

    …because David Miller’s wife, and Barbara Hall’s husband were just that much more known to Torontonians than Renata Ford? Who cares?!?

  • Sherene

    If I was a politician’s wife, I wouldn’t talk to the media either. Some people just like to maintain their privacy.

  • Polishgirl

    @sunbeamcatcher: having gone to grade school and highschool with Mrs. Ford, I can assure you that she is not Jewish by any means. My parents are also Holocaust survivors, and I believe they’ve all raised pretty normal kids. Know your facts before you spew inaccuracy!

  • Guest

    this story should run again.. its very interesting..

  • Shaunanew

    very interesting story.

  • chipi

    You have all failed to realize; she was not the one elected into politics; and to Mayor Rob Ford; you are definitely in the line of fire…anyone else on council care to stand in his spot and receive the same treatment… who are we to judge his personal life as long as it is not affecting his role as mayor… FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHTS!–last time I checked, NO ONE IS PERFECT! He has apologized–accept it and move on!

  • Alma Belhumeur

    I have much compassion and empathy for this woman. I believe she is abused mentally physically and emotionally. she looks so out of touch with her surroundings.
    Reading the article about their home tells me that she is not happy. I would love to be the fly on the wall just to see if my thoughts about this whole situation are right.

  • Lixii

    Maybe he was just interviewing the hooker to see if she could offer some advice to his wife on how to take the beating like a whore?

  • Lixii

    I heard she’s a shrew, not a jew.

  • Lixii

    Why should we get off her back when he’s got he ron her hands and knees, treating her like a dog, with her fist in her mouth? Quit waving this Jew card you’re trying to apply to her.

  • Mamikakaza

    Oh, ppleeasee… She is soooo ugly!!!!!!!!!!!! Pheewwww……:-(((

  • ExcessOfConstraint

    “who are we to judge his personal life as long as it is not affecting his role as mayor…”

    Well, his personal life is obviously and definitely very much affecting his role as mayor, so no, apology not accepted, we’re not moving on.

  • Eileen May

    NOT TRUE!!!

  • Eileen May

    No, Dougie just invented that to shut you up

  • Eileen May

    He does parade the kids. He arrived with them in tow (he was in a drunken stupor ) at the Garrison Ball. Staff took them home.

  • Eileen May

    How do you know she is not also a drunk, drug addict, and the one behind the cuts to services?

  • Eileen May

    Nonsense. How do you know she is not also an alcoholic, crack smoker. Know any local cops?

  • Eileen May

    I think that’s the POINT of the article, that it’s unusual for anyone in politics to be seen out in public without the wife/with another woman/ and also for the wife not to be at least seen once in a while at public events.
    Running for office/having a radio/tv show is NOT the way to ensure your privacy.

  • Myworkisdonehere

    Racist much, Nils?

  • Myworkisdonehere

    Too drunk to meet the Prime Minister at public event? If that’s not affecting his role as mayor then I guess neither is the fact he is an uneducated, obnoxious, drunken boor.

  • Moran b eeghuzzar

    Or just standing behind him & couldn’t be seen.

  • Moran b eeghuzzar

    But at least Renata feeds Robfo a lot!

  • X_Mayor

    she’s not old enough.

  • X_Mayor

    The time the police responded to a 911 call, they said she was incoherent.

  • Celine Miller

    ExcessOfContraint..DID YOU WRITE?: AS LONG AS ITS NOT AFFECTING HIS ROLE AS MAYOR????? OBVIOUSLY YOU HAVE A GREAT SENSE OF HUMOUR. HA HA HA. That’s no Mayor..that’s an idiot.

 

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