When news broke Saturday afternoon that longtime NDP MPP Peter Kormos had died, discovered at his Welland home after Niagara Region Police responded to a "medical call," the tributes poured in from friend and former foe alike.
It's customary to say nice things at times like this. But rarely are they so heartfelt when you're talking about lifelong politician. Kormos was different. He was described as a "titan," "champion," "a giant in provincial politics."
NDP leader Andrea Horwath called Kormos "the genuine article... truly one of a kind."
Premier Kathleen Wynne remembered his influence on her. "Peter was the person to watch when it came to representing your constituents and your cause with passion, intelligence and dedication."
But some of the highest praise came from PC leader Tim Hudak, who served as an MPP just one riding over from Kormos, though the two couldn't be more diametrically opposed politically.
"It's rarely said by politicians these days - and in the best sense of the word - but I can say with sad confidence on this day, ‘We shall not see his like again.'"
That's quite a remembrance given the vicious brand of partisan politics that has descended on Queen's Park in recent years. What would Kormos say about that? In a sense, he let his feet do the talking when he gracefully walked away from Queen's Park in 2011, after more than two decades in provincial politics, declaring the need for new blood. He eventually went back to his political roots to serve on Niagara Regional council.
Kormos was a rare parliamentarian. And not just because he fought like hell for what he believed in. The difference with Kormos is that he did it with a sense of humour and flare. He grabbed headlines, but he also got people thinking.
Kormos came by his maverick label honestly. He was passionate, but never brash. He minced no words, but never took himself too seriously. Who else would announce a crack down on beer and liquor advertising one day - as he did when he served as minister of consumer and commercial relations in the Bob Rae government - and pose as Sunshine Boy the next?
A character? Yes. But Kormos was above all honest, respected by his political opponents not only for his eloquence but unique ability for checking his partisanship at the door.
He was an unabashed socialist. But he was a populist too. His positions weren't always what could be described as predictable, though they were distinctively leftist. Kormos never forgot those he represented. He had the working class touch.
He could be a hard ass on justice issues, perhaps owing to his background in criminal law. But his record on police accountability as justice critic is unmatched. It was his efforts that saved Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin's job when the former government of Dalton McGuinty began to find Marin's reporting too embarrassing to keep him around.
Complicated is another word that's been used to describe Kormos. But sometimes he was just misunderstood. His views on same-sex marriage were questioned when he declared that "the government should get out of the marriage business," even though he was one of the gay community's strongest allies.
The force of his personality was undeniable. I saw it up close when we shared a spot on the Michael Coren show a few years back. Kormos knew when to play to the camera, and how to defend his position without coming off as a know-it-all, more often than not, with a mischievous smirk not too far from his lips.
He always gave good quote. His was a constant presence at Queen's Park. Oh, the stories he could tell. And he did. After 20-plus years at the Pink Palace, he'd pretty much seen it all.
I don't know why but my most enduring memory of Kormos is from the spring of 2010 when I'd had occasion to speak to him outside Queen's Park shortly after criminal charges against former Lib attorney general Michael Bryant in the death of cyclist Darcy Allan Sheppard had been withdrawn. On that day, a red-tailed hawk that made its nest in a giant pine nearby that distracted our attention.
Shortly after his death, a YouTube video of his remarks in the Legislature after the G20 embarrassment started making the rounds in the Twitterverse. It's vintage Kormos. Pointed. Funny. But most of all, thoughtful. His trademark cowboy boots will be hard to fill.