Katie Wood says she never cared about Jim Flaherty’s politics.
“He’d ask to put a sign on the lawn at election time, and I’d say he didn’t have to ask,” she said through tears. “I always knew I’d put an ‘X’ beside his name because of who he was.”
Ms. Wood lives just across the street from Mr. Flaherty’s Whitby home, and said he was “a good man.”
Wood remembers when her son Josh was nervous about which university he’d get into. Without being asked to, Mr. Flaherty wrote 10 personalized letters of recommendation on House of Commons stationary for Josh to send to universities.
“These are just the people you expect to be around forever,” she said.
Neighbours and Whitby residents say they were shocked by the death of their neighbour and long-time political representative.
Mr. Flaherty represented the area for almost two decades. He served as the Progressive Conservative MPP for the Whitby-Ajax riding from 1995 until he successfully ran for the Whitby-Oshawa seat in the House of Commons in 2006.
Whitby resident Terri Milburn was in a hair salon when she found out about Mr. Flaherty’s death.
“I just felt sick,” she said. “Gobsmacked.”
Ms. Milburn’s son has autism and went to school with the former Finance Minister’s son, John.
Mr. Flaherty was a key player in introducing the Registered Disability Savings plan, a government program that helps parents of kids living with disabilities save for their children’s future financial security, in 2007.
“I can’t even begin to say how important it is to my son and everyone with disabilities,” Milburn said.
Mr. Flaherty was also instrumental in the creation of the Abilities Centre, a recreation complex that offers programs and equipment for people living with disabilities.
The Thomsons live near Mr. Flaherty’s massive Garden Street property, and, although they didn’t know him personally, often saw him cutting his grass with his riding lawn mower and walking his golden retriever Guinness.
“He’s a good Irish,” Linda Thomson said with a laugh, adding that her eldest son voted for Mr. Flaherty when he reached voting age because he “liked his dog.”
Ms. Thomson’s family received a Christmas card from the Flahertys every year and said he’ll be missed.
Girma Mekonnen, said he never met Mr. Flaherty but reacted strongly to the news of his death.
The family physician was in his car when he head the news.
“I was shaking,” he said.
Mr. Mekonnen, an Ethopian immigrant, says he’s grateful for the work Mr. Flaherty did to “stabilize the economy of Canada,” during the global financial crisis which he believes gave him more opportunities as an immigrant when he arrived in Canada 12 years ago.
“When you lose this kind of man, it’s really hard to take,” he said. “I never heard anything bad about him.”
Suzanne and John Callow, who were sharing a coffee inside a Coffee Time just downstairs from Mr. Flaherty’s constituency office, described him as a “great man.”
“You’d never think he was a big shot seeing him around,” Ms. Callow said. “Just a neighbourhood man.”
Neighbours described seeing Mr. Flaherty and his wife, Christine Elliott, shop at the local grocery store, and that he was known for opening up his house for Halloween and giving candy to neighbourhood kids.
Ms. Elliott is also a familiar face in Whitby. She became MPP for Whitby-Ajax after her husband joined the federal Conservative caucus.
David Porter said he remembers seeing the couple at Canada Day functions at Whitby’s Iroquois Park.
“It’s a bit of a shock,” he said. “I’m sure he’s going to be missed since he was well regarded in the community.”