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Port Orange Observer Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 5 months ago

Port Orange city hall mourns death of Councilman Bob Ford

The city seal flag will fly at half-staff for the councilman from Jan. 7 to Jan. 13.
by: Tanya Russo Staff Writer

Longtime Port Orange City Councilman Robert Eugene Ford died on Dec. 22, 2018, following a courageous battle with cancer. He was 74.

“He was a legend in Port Orange because of what he accomplished,” Councilman Drew Bastian said. “Bob was intelligent.  He was one of the good guys."

Bastian called Ford a "straight shooter" and a man who was always respected.

"Ford was a great servant," Bastian said, "leaving a legacy that will last through infinity.”

Ford was Port Orange's police chief from 1986 to 1999. He was recruited by former city manager, Ken Parker.  Prior to that, he worked for the Erie County Sheriff’s Department in Erie County, New York.  His hometown was New York, New York. 

Ford graduated from St. Dominic High School. He earned a bachelor's degree in sociology from Niagara University. He obtained a doctorate in criminology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

Ford was passionate about public policy and education.  He taught criminal justice at the University of Central Florida from 1999 to 2017. 

He had represented Port Orange's District 1 on the council since December 2010.

At the Dec. 4 council meeting, Ford could barely speak above a whisper.  At the Dec. 18 meeting, he was absent. Ford rarely missed a council meeting in the eight years he served.

“He was super tough,” Bastian said. “He fought, fought, fought. Cancer was not going to get him down.”

The city seal flag will fly at half-staff out of respect for the Councilman from Monday, Jan. 7 to Sunday, Jan. 13.

Port Orange Mayor Don Burnette said that Ford was “all business” in council. He was fiscally conservative and believed in transparency in government. But what most stood out to Burnette about Ford in the eight years they sat next to each other was his sense of humor.

"Bob could laugh about anything," Burnette said. "He could relate to people. I’ve enjoyed the last eight years serving with him."

On Tuesday, Jan. 8, the date of the next council meeting, that chair is going to be empty, he said. 

Photo courtesy of the Ford family

“Bob was a dear friend and a great mentor since day one," Councilman Chase Tramont said. "My heart hurts for Port Orange, but especially for the Ford family.” 

Tramont said he and Ford shared similar views regarding government and public service. Tramont also recalled Ford's compassion for others — after both hurricanes, he and Ford visited people whose homes flooded and offered to help them, as well as listen to those who needed to talk.

"He was the voice of passion for the citizens in the city of Port Orange," Councilman Scott Stiltner said.

When Ford was the city's police chief, he hired a very young Stiltner, who at the time, was a 19-year-old rookie fresh out of police academy. Stiltner said they maintained a great relationship throughout the years, even consulting one another when they each decided to run for council.

"Bob had the ability to debate topics and ideas," Stiltner said. "He enjoyed discussions and different perspectives."

Stiltner said the Riverwalk Project was one of his and Ford's proudest accomplishments.  Once Ford, "got a shovel in the ground," Stiltner said people could see that the project had moved forward.  Stiltner hopes that it will continue to move in a positive direction for the future.

"I'm gonna miss him," Stiltner said. "The Lord gave him peace and rest. Bob was a fighter."

There will be a special meeting before the regular City Council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 8, to officially declare a vacancy of Ford's council seat and to generate plans for a special election.

Within the past three months, Port Orange has lost three critical members.  Finance Director Tracey Rhiem died suddenly following complications after a knee surgery in November 2018.  Prior to Rhiem's death, Senator Dorothy Hukill died in October from ovarian cancer.

A “Celebration of Life” will take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 12 at the Volusia Memorial Funeral Home, located at 4815 Clyde Morris Blvd.

In lieu of flowers, the Ford family requests that contributions be made to assist students at Ford’s undergraduate alma mater via the Robert Ford Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 2008, Niagara University, NY 14109.

This story was updated on Friday, Jan. 11, to reflect Ford served as the POPD chief until 1999. A previous version of this story stated it was until 1991.

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