Sunday, March 31, 2013
Peter Kormos had the heart of a lion
He had the heart of a lion. He would take on any cause and fight to the death to win.
And he always, always battled hardest when he was fighting for his beloved hometown of Welland.
Kormos died Saturday at age 60. He had collapsed in Toronto on Wednesday and was taken to hospital. He checked himself out and returned to Welland, where he died.
In many ways, Kormos personified Welland. He was gritty, hard-working and no nonsense.
But behind that gruff exterior was a heart of gold. The last time I saw him was when he dropped by my office at Queen’s Park with chocolates on Valentine’s Day. That was just the kind of guy he was.
He would bring treats for some of the women in the press gallery, and he’d sit and chat and open up about his latest concern - whether it was right-to-work legislation or the state of the auto industry.
He cared passionately about the Canadian car industry, and would wag his finger at me in admonition when he saw me driving my import.
And he was one of the most honest politicians I’ve ever covered.
Like most honest men, though, he caused waves with his frankness and his absolute refusal to compromise his staunch socialist beliefs. And he made enemies.
He was a true socialist, not a save-the-whales, social democrat. He cared deeply about the union movement, and teased me about that when the Sun went through a certification process.
In his younger days, he cut quite a sartorial figure at Queen’s Park, even posing as a SUNshine Boy, leaning against his flashy Corvette. Former Premier Bob Rae was not amused. It cost Kormos his cabinet seat. He favoured cowboy boots, rarely wore a tie and in the early years of the McGuinty government, he was the subject of a Liberal MPP’s motion to introduce a dress code to the floor of the Legislature.
After the motion passed, Kormos showed up in a tuxedo, mocking the woman who’d insisted on the dress rules in his own wry way.
Kormos was bitterly disappointed when the New Democratic government, of which he was a part, failed to deliver on its promise of public auto insurance. He clashed with Rae over that decision and the two never really made up.
A lawyer, Kormos never forgot who it was who sent him to Queen’s Park. It was the little guy on the street in Welland he owed his living to. It was his commitment to the needs of average folk that drove him.
He never got too big for his cowboy boots. He was a favourite with the media simply because he could distil the most complex issues into a few pithy sentences.
Kormos’ death is a shock, but not a surprise.
He’d been unwell in recent years and took several months off just before the 2011 election. He didn’t run again for his provincial seat, chosing instead to run for Niagara Regional Council. He’d also become a frequent commentator on radio and TV.
Peter, I can’t imagine Queen’s Park without the possibility of you rapping at my door as you always did to announce yourself.
You were, my friend, quite simply the best - the bravest and the most courageous guy around here.
I’ll miss your humour.
Most of all, I’m going to miss your passion for politics. The way you made this place make sense because you understood it so well.
We all miss you already. And the guy who is most bereft, who’ll feel your loss for ever, is that little guy in Welland you always fought so hard to represent.
Goodbye, my friend. And God Bless.
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