To the public, Christopher Peloso was the calm presence at the side of one of Ontario’s toughest political figures.
To his family, friends and colleagues, he was the doting father who liked to cook for his children; the empathetic boss who encouraged his co-workers; the supportive spouse who gave time and energy to his partner’s political campaigns.
Mr. Peloso, the husband of former deputy premier George Smitherman, died by suicide last Sunday. He was 40 years old.
“While you can focus on the glaring reality that he took his own life at a shockingly young age, you mustn’t lose sight of his mark on me and on our family,” a tearful Mr. Smitherman told hundreds of people who packed a Toronto community centre for Mr. Peloso’s memorial Friday. “We are his legacy project. I’m the better man for it.”
The assembled included scores of politicians, including Premier Kathleen Wynne and former premier Dalton McGuinty, who sat in the front row. Also in attendance were Toronto Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, TTC Chair Karen Stintz, and several provincial cabinet ministers.
In his eulogy, Mr. Smitherman called for the end of the stigma around mental health, including the depression from which Mr. Peloso suffered.
“If you’re holding something back and you bring it out into public life, it is the first step and it is cathartic and it is powerful,” he said. “We will not be afraid, in Christopher’s name, to tell his story and to tell our story … A man took his life because the pain in his brain was unrelenting.”
Born Oct. 20, 1973, in Sudbury, Ont., Mr. Peloso was the middle of three children. His compassion showed from an early age, his father, Reno Peloso, told the memorial: one day, he came home with three orphaned squirrels, which the family fed with an eye-dropper and raised until they were strong enough to return to the wild.
After high school, Mr. Peloso attended Laurentian University and had his first child, daughter Morgan.
He moved to Toronto in his early 20s, building his career at Laura Secord and eventually moving on to Lindt, where he held a top management job. Colleague Robyn Handley described him as a “kind” boss who “had a way of making you feel you were the most important person in the room.”
He also had a spontaneous sense of fun: on the sweltering night of the August, 2003, blackout, she said, he led an impromptu excursion of friends to a park to go swimming under the stars.
Mr. Peloso met Mr. Smitherman shortly after moving to Toronto, and the pair had an on-and-off relationship before getting together for good in 2005. They were married two years later. The couple adopted two children, Michael and Kayla, and Mr. Peloso left work to stay at home with them.
Former Toronto mayor Barbara Hall, a long-time family friend, recalled Mr. Peloso’s joy Christmas morning as Kayla tried on a new princess outfit, complete with dress, tiara and high heels.
On another occasion, Mr. Smitherman said, Mr. Peloso was driving with their children when the car ahead of them struck a bird on Bloor Street. Mr. Peloso pulled over and went to the rescue of the injured animal.
Mr. Peloso disappeared in September. Police found him two days later near a set of train tracks not far from his west-end home. He went missing again Sunday, and was found dead the following day.
“Michael and Kayla sat next to me on the couch as I tried to explain to them that Dada was gone, that he had died,” Mr. Smitherman told the memorial. “Michael ran to the bathroom got me tissues and told me, ‘Don’t be sad.’”
Reno Peloso, for his part, had a simple message on the need to bring discussion of mental health into the open.
“Chris suffered depression,” he said, “and there’s no shame in that.”