A memorial service for former Ontario cabinet minister George Smitherman's husband was held Friday morning at the Wellesley Community Centre with friends and family pledging to end the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Christopher Peloso, 40, was found dead by police earlier this week after taking his own life following a battle with mental illness.
His death, along other recent military suicides, prompted former Liberal leader Bob Rae to call for a national plan on suicide prevention.
Speaking at the memorial Friday Peloso's father Reno said "when people come up to us and (ask) what happened, it's going to be easier for us to say you know what, Chris suffered from depression and committed suicide and there's no shame in that."
Friend and former Toronto mayor Barbara Hall called on mourners to create a legacy for Peloso.
"A legacy of a society where stigma and stereotypes are eliminated and all of us and all of those we love are fully included and all of us are supported and nurtured through illness, whatever form it takes."
"A man took his life because the pain in his brain was unrelenting. A strong man and a courageous man," said Smitherman, who eulogized his late husband. "We have to find peace in knowing that our little Yellowbird is free."
A visibly emotional Smitherman, known for both his aggressive political style and an openness about his private life that's rare among public figures, was near tears as he spoke about his husband's battle with mental illness and breaking the news to their two young children, both under the age of six. The pressures Peloso felt were ``unbelievable and insurmountable,'' Smitherman said.
"He had so much strength,'' he told the packed crowd in a downtown community centre.
``He would never say no, he would never complain and he certainly would never really ask for help.''
Peloso was a devoted stay-at-home dad to their adopted son and daughter and adored his adult biological daughter from a previous relationship, Smitherman said.
``While we can focus on the glaring reality that he took his own life at a shockingly young age, you mustn't lose sight of his mark on me and our family,'' Smitherman said.
``We are his legacy project. I'm the better man for it.''
Peloso's father Reno said he and his wife are struggling with guilt about what they could have done to stop their son from taking his own life. But the outpouring of support is helping them through it, he said.
Peloso also disappeared in September and was found by police two days later in a wooded area in the city.
Smitherman and Peloso were married in August 2007.
Smitherman served as the province's deputy premier, health minister and energy minister before he stepped down to run for Toronto mayor in 2010.