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Ontario PC leader Doug Ford, left, hugs his mother Diane after winning the Ontario Provincial election to become the new premier in Toronto, on Thursday, June 7, 2018.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Diane Ford, the mother of Ontario Premier Doug Ford and the late Toronto mayor Rob Ford, has died at the age of 85.

The premier’s office said the Ford matriarch died in her Etobicoke home on Sunday, surrounded by family.

“Mrs. Ford was an active member of her community who supported numerous charitable causes,” spokeswoman Ivana Yelich said in a written statement. “But most of all, she was the rock for her family, especially her 10 grandchildren.”

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She said Ford had been diagnosed with cancer.

Yelich said the family was grateful for the outpouring of support in recent weeks, and thankful for the compassion Ford’s caregivers showed.

Diane Ford had long been in the public sphere, with her late husband Doug Sr. serving in the Ontario legislature in the 1990s, but she rose to prominence during her youngest son’s turbulent years as Toronto mayor.

She was a fierce defender of Rob Ford as he publicly battled addiction and substance abuse.

“My heart breaks for my son. It really, really does, because he’s been attacked,” she said in an exclusive 2013 interview with local TV station CP24.

She went on to say that while she didn’t condone his behaviour, she felt he had been treated unfairly.

“It’s not acceptable behaviour. He is the mayor of the city, but he knows that better than anyone now. But, you know, to err is human, but to forgive is divine and we all err, but here there is no forgiveness … Forgiveness isn’t in the eyes of the media right now,” she said.

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She also told interviewers that her son didn’t have a drug problem – he had a weight problem.

Just a year later, Diane Ford was yet again in the news. This time, she and several family members donated tens of thousands of dollars to Humber River Hospital, where Rob Ford was then receiving cancer treatment.

“After 42 years of having my children here and using emergency services … doctors have been wonderful, and it’s our hospital,” Diane Ford said at the time.

Then, in 2018, Doug Ford launched his campaign for premier from his mother’s home. The same house had long been the setting of the annual Ford Fest barbecue, to which the whole public is invited.

The event became a destination for members of Ford Nation, the legion of devotees who admire the family’s for-the-people brand of politics.

In recent years, the crowds grew too large for the Ford backyard so the party moved to a far bigger venue.

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Diane Ford also saw her grandson, Michael Ford, the eldest son of her only daughter, become a municipal politician. He was first elected to city council in a 2016 byelection prompted by his uncle Rob’s death.

He tweeted about his grandmother’s death on Sunday night.

“Heaven has just welcomed a very special angel through its gates tonight,” he wrote. “Words cannot describe how much I will miss you. Love you so much, Nana.”

Diane Ford’s death also prompted a flood of condolences from politicians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“I’m sorry to hear about the passing of your mother,” he tweeted to the premier. “Sophie & I are keeping you & your family are in our thoughts tonight.”

Ontario’s Opposition Leader, Andrea Horwath, also offered her sympathies.

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“The Ford family is in our hearts and our minds as they grieve this deep loss,” the NDP leader said in a written statement. “I hope the family finds strength in each other, and comfort in community, and may warm memories of Mrs. Ford help the Ford family through this difficult time.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory, who won the seat over Doug Ford in the 2014 municipal election, extended his condolences on behalf of the city.

“Throughout the 25 years I have known her, Mrs. Diane Ford was so obviously the matriarch of the Ford family and that is why I know they will miss her so much,” he said.

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