Ontario’s political class responded with an outpouring of grief on Monday to news of the tragic death of former deputy premier George Smitherman’s husband.
Christopher Peloso, 40, was found dead after being reported missing on Sunday for the second time in less than four months.
While police have not confirmed cause of death, Mr. Smitherman alluded to Mr. Peloso’s struggles with mental illness. “We will celebrate his life and we will find comfort somehow in knowing that he has found peace from the depression that has wreaked havoc on his mind,” he said in a statement.
Both friends and political foes were quick to extend their condolences to Mr. Smitherman, as well as the couple’s two children and Mr. Peloso’s family.
“He’ll be hugely missed,” a visibly emotional Premier Kathleen Wynne told reporters, “and my thoughts and love are with George and the kids.”
“Sometimes the world breaks your heart,” former premier and federal Liberal leader Bob Rae said via Twitter, calling Mr. Peloso “a sweet and loving man.”
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who bested Mr. Smitherman in a fiercely contested 2010 municipal campaign, also expressed his sympathies through Twitter. “It is with great sadness that I have learned of the passing of Mr. Christopher Peloso, husband to Mr. George Smitherman, and loving father,” Mr. Ford said.
Mr. Peloso, a former director of operations for Lindt Canada said to have left his job to focus on parenthood, was frequently by Mr. Smitherman’s side during that mayoral race. And even before then, the couple enjoyed a prominent place in public life.
In 2007, Mr. Smitherman became the first prominent politician in the country to marry a same-sex partner. At the time, Mr. Peloso was credited for helping to soften the edges of the man known around Queen’s Park as “Furious George,” and for helping Mr. Smitherman find a healthier work-life balance.
Mr. Smitherman told The Globe and Mail in 2009 that he met his future husband 15 years earlier, when Mr. Peloso was “fresh off the bus” from Sudbury, where he grew up. The former deputy premier, who has been open about his hard-partying past, blamed himself for being “slow to mature,” but said Mr. Peloso’s “enduring” love helped to ultimately bring them together.
Mr. Peloso’s apparent battle with mental illness came to public attention only in September, when he went missing for two days. After being found near a fence along train tracks near the Toronto intersection of Landsdowne and Dupont Avenues, he was taken to Toronto Western Hospital and subsequently received treatment.
Three years earlier, following the disappointment of losing his mayoral bid, Mr. Smitherman expressed excitement about the opportunity to spend more time at home. Holding the first of the couple’s adopted children, he struck an optimistic note: “Tomorrow morning, we will be able to recoup some of the lost family time.”
A memorial for Mr. Peloso will be held at the Wellesley Community Centre in Toronto at 11 a.m. Friday. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking for donations to the Psychiatry Research Fund of the Toronto General Hospital and Western General Hospital foundation, and to the Casey House Capital Campaign.
With a report from Evan Annett