I heard tales of Chief William (Bill) McCormack long before we actually met.

He was legendary in homicide investigation circles in the 1970’s, when I was a young cop and voracious reader of crime stories. I yearned to be a homicide investigator of his ilk. As I matured as an officer and started progressing through the ranks, I got to know more of his leadership style. I then wanted to be a similar leader – deeply connected with our people and always putting them first.

Bill started his policing career in Bermuda in the 1950’s; subsequently joining the then Metropolitan Toronto Police Force, where he progressed through the ranks, spending many years in the elite Homicide Squad and eventually becoming Chief of Police in 1989. He was highly respected by the community and people from all levels of all police agencies, including his many colleague Chiefs from across Canada and beyond. Although I’m sure he had his detractors – we certainly all do, his were few and far between.

We first officially met in 1988, when I was seconded to the Economic Security Task Force for the G7 Summit in Toronto. He was then Deputy Chief, but far from what I imagined of a “big city” Deputy. He seemed welcoming and conciliatory to me – despite my being an outsider and a Sergeant, as opposed to a standoffish old-school para-military executive. He made me feel like a valued member of the broader team, even though he didn’t know me from a hill of beans.

I saw him in his finest form when a large group of protestors marched down University Avenue to disrupt the G7 and were met by an equally immense contingent of Toronto officers. Deputy Chief McCormack was clearly in-charge when the opposing groups converged. Looking like a recruitment poster-boy in his uniform, he calmly made decisions; respectfully allowed a degree of peaceful protest; coolly gave instructions to subordinate police leaders; initiated arrests and cleared the blockade. He set a positive example with his appearance and stature, communicated well and acted professionally from start to finish. None of it was about “him” but about community safety. It was textbook leadership in my view.

Every time I saw him from that day forward, including during his 6 years as Chief and tumultuous relationship with the then Police services Board Chair, Susan Eng, Bill was consistently friendly and courteous. Whether in uniform or civilian attire, he exuded a professional bearing. Each interaction further validated the stories I had heard for many years about the engaging and caring relationships he had with those he led – regardless of their rank or position. That “connecting with people” persona continued throughout his retirement, whether stopping to chat with officers at events; visiting TPS Divisions; or attending police funerals. He always left officers and civilians of all services that he met with a feeling that they actually counted.

When I interviewed him a few years ago as part of a book I was writing on leadership, I wasn’t surprised at all when in reply to a question about Chief and police association relations, he said, “Being in constant communication is a vital need. Be able to have a mutual understanding and respect. Recognition that both sides are working towards the benefit of the officers. During my service I always said that on joining the police force I was sworn in as a Constable and I remained a Constable throughout.”

Sadly, the Chief passed away last Thursday at age 83. He is survived by his lovely and caring wife Jean and 5 children – 4 of whom joined the Toronto Police Service, as well as several grandchildren. His eldest daughter Kathy eventually moved from the TPS to the OPP, where she serves as uniformed Sergeant. Sadly, she told me: “I lost my best friend and heaven has another hero.”

This quote from Chief McCormack from my 2014 interview with him, says it all in terms of how he felt about the people he was so proud to lead. From my own observations and conversations with him over the years and accordingly to what so many have told me from their personal experiences with him, he completely nailed it:

“Leadership is about people having a passion and a desire to work for you because they want to, not because they have to. You must have the ability to empathize and have the personnel see that you are always in a position of support with them and that you can stand beside them and are not afraid to do what you’ve asked of them, yourself.”

Rest in peace Chief. You will be missed.

Chris Lewis served as Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police from 2010 until he retired in 2014. He can be seen regularly on CTV and CP24 giving his opinion as a public safety analyst.