Legacy of Leadership

Bob Ford talks about his battle with cancer during the Relay For Life of Port Orange at Riverwalk Park on Saturday, June 9, 2018.

The City of Port Orange will be faced with the daunting task of filling the seat left vacant by the death of long-time Councilman Robert “Bob” Ford.

The City Council has the option of appointing someone to fill the seat of the long-time community leader, and was expected to set a special election in its meeting Jan. 8.

Mayor Don Burnette said he would like citizens to be able to fill the seat with someone they like as quickly as possible.

“Whoever fills that seat will have very, very large shoes to fill,” the mayor said. “Hopefully we will find someone who is qualified, we will never find another Bob Ford. In so many ways I am going to miss Bob Ford the person, and I am going to miss Bob Ford the representative of the city. A lot of people didn’t know (he had cancer) because he didn’t let it stop him. He had an incredible sense of humor.”

Whether it was protecting lives of citizens or advocating for feral cats, Councilman Ford left a legacy of service when he died from cancer Saturday, Dec. 22, at 74. He was in his third term as District 1 councilman.

“Bob was a servant leader that always acted in the best interest of the city,” said City Manager Jake Johansson. “His passion for the environment was evident in his push for the linear park and walkway along the waterfront. He was a great police chief, vice mayor, council member and TPO representative. We will miss his presence on the dais and in our lives.”

Councilman Ford was born Feb. 11, 1944, in New York City. He initially studied for the priesthood, but switched to criminology. He earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology (magna cum laude) at Niagara University and earned master's and doctoral degrees in sociology at the University of Illinois.

Following graduate school, Mr. Ford taught criminology at the State University of New York-Buffalo. He left full-time academia to become the third in command at the Erie County Sheriff’s Department in Buffalo, N.Y., until he was selected as Commissioner of Central Police Services for Erie County.

According to his wife, Marilyn Ford, “Bob missed street-level policing and came to the Port Orange Police Department in 1986. He was police chief through January 1999 and then director of police Services for the city until August 1999.”

She added, “Upon retirement from policing, Bob turned to his other career love -- education. Bob taught criminal justice and research at the University of Central Florida until 2016. His broad experience in policing and research as well as his gift of gab served him well in the classroom. He was known as a professor who could distill the most complex idea via a simple example -- and often in a few pithy sentences.”

Ms. Ford also noted he consulted for the International Association of Chiefs of Police for more than 20 years, and was “probably the foremost expert in the nation on police manpower and staffing.”

While at UCF, he and a colleague secured a U.S. State Department grant to assist a city in Russia with learning community policing. He conferred with police in Austria, Germany, Italy, Uruguay and Turkey, and was a graduate of the FBI National Academy of Associates in Quantico, Va.

Councilman Ford first ran for Port Orange City Council in 2010.

“Just as when he was police chief, Bob strove to be accessible to his constituents,” Ms. Ford said. “He fielded calls at home and citizens would often seek him out when he was gardening. Bob emphasized accountability, both fiscally and in decision making. He believed 'good government' meant restraint on regulation and he saw the role of local government to ensure a safe community with responsive managers and leisure services for citizens of all ages. He was a gentleman and a scholar. And just how I like my police, brave but erudite and kind.”

Fellow Councilman Drew Bastian said, “The Bob Ford I knew was a no-nonsense individual with a big heart. Bob was a fighter who fought the battle against cancer with ferocity. I never heard him ask why me or complain about his illness at all. He was a dedicated public servant who gave well over two decades of his life to serving Port Orange.

“I had the distinct honor and privilege of hanging a survivor’s ribbon and medallion around his neck at a cancer survivor's walk three times,” Councilman Bastian said.

Mr. Ford is survived by his wife of 34½ years, Marilyn. He has two adult children, Shannon and Kerrie. In lieu of flowers, Councilman Ford wanted donations to be made to the Robert Ford Memorial Fund, P.O Box 2008, Niagara University, NY 14109, which benefits students of his alma mater. A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 12, at Volusia Memorial Funeral Home, 4815 Clyde Morris Blvd., Port Orange.

City flags will remain lowered on city properties through Sunday, Jan. 13.

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