City hall recognition for ailing Bob Morrow
Former mayor having ‘serious’ health troubles but honour has been in works for years
City councillors are expected to vote Friday on naming the City Hall forecourt after ailing former Hamilton mayor Bob Morrow.
Coun. Sam Merulla, who is moving the proposal, says the honour has been in the works for years and has nothing to do with Morrow’s health challenges.
“Bob’s the longest serving mayor in the history of old Hamilton and now the new city of Hamilton, as well,” Merulla said.
“What better place to recognize his longevity and the success of his career than the place where governance is centred.”
Morrow, mayor from 1982 to 2000, says he’s “very flattered” by the proposal but is reluctant to comment too much until it becomes official.
“You never know, there could be mishaps,” he said. “Stranger things have happened.”
As longtime Hamiltonians will recall, Morrow, 71, has always been very private. The father of two sons acknowledges he’s dealing with health problems but declines to disclose specifics.
“I have challenges but I’m meeting them and doing my best.”
Still, the forecourt naming can’t help but have a slightly ominous overtone. Last January council voted to name the forecourt of Ancaster’s old town hall after former Ancaster mayor Ann Sloat who was in ill health.
The unveiling of the plaque took place in March. Sloat died last month at age 89.
Morrow says he’s receiving medical treatment and going through a “lot of rigmarole” but he’s “getting by and still active.”
“It’s serious enough but not life-threatening. It’s not terminal, at least as far as I’m aware. But I guess we’re all on a time frame.”
Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who had a hand in putting together the motion, says honouring Morrow is the right thing to do after all these years.
“We’ve never really named anything after our longest serving mayor so I’m delighted to put it forward.”
“He was the right guy at the right time and he served our community spectacularly.”
Eisenberger believes Morrow’s greatest legacy was helping to diversify the local economy, setting in motion a transformation that has seen the Conference Board of Canada name Hamilton’s economy the most diversified in the country for four years running.
“He understood that we needed to spread our wings and bring in new industries that would help us diversify from that one steel industry town.”
Eisenberger also lauds Morrow’s record on ethnic diversity.
“He really understood the history of all the ethnic communities here and he still does.
“I know of no one who has that sense of history and understanding of all the ethnicities we have in our community.”
Merulla agrees, noting many ethnic groups saw Morrow as transcending Hamilton’s traditional Anglo-Saxon perceptions.
“The Italians, the Portuguese, all the ethnic communities applauded him and put him on a pedestal where he belonged.”
Idealized or not, Morrow really did have a remarkable preamalgamation political career.
He won his first election as an alderman for the west-end Ward 1 in 1968 at the tender age of 22. He was disqualified, however, because his name wasn’t on the voter’s list. He roared back in 1970 and then two years later was elected to the board of control, an executive committee of council elected at large. After a brief hiatus, he ran for mayor in a crowded field in 1982, scoring at age 35 the first of six mayoral victories.
His 18-year run as mayor came to an end in the 2000 amalgamation election, which he lost to former Ancaster mayor Bob Wade. Eisenberger also ran in that election, placing third behind Morrow and ahead of former Liberal warhorse John Munro.
Eisenberger jokes that Morrow still holds him a tad responsible for his defeat since his candidacy split the vote to Wade’s benefit. “But he’s forgiven me.” Time and a generous spirit will do that. Following his defeat, Morrow went on to become a citizenship judge for two terms and then in 2014 was appointed by council as an interim councillor for Ward 3 after the death of Coun. Bernie Morelli.
Bob Morrow in 2000. Council is expected to name the City Hall forecourt after the ailing former mayor on Friday. He served as mayor of preamalgamated Hamilton for 18 years.