Rob Ford’s former chief of staff says Toronto’s most famous mayor had a “phenomenal ability” to tap into what the average Torontonian was thinking.

Speaking on CTV’s Canada AM on Wednesday, Mark Towhey remembered his former boss, who died Tuesday at 46 following a battle with cancer.

Towhey said that although he “expected that this day would come,” news of Ford’s death was “still a kick in the gut, because if ever there was one guy who could beat the odds or defy expectations, Rob Ford seemed to be that guy.”

Very few people had more knowledge of Ford behind closed doors than Towhey, who helped engineer the longtime city councillor’s wildly successful 2010 mayoral campaign and later became his chief of staff during his controversial term in the mayor’s office.

Though Towhey didn’t count Ford as a “close personal friend,” he was by his side during the “joys of winning and in the depths of absolute chaos.”

Ford had a tumultuous four years as mayor of Toronto. He struggled to keep his agenda on track following some early victories on council. Later, scandals, including admissions of drug and alcohol abuse, overshadowed his work as mayor and put Ford in international headlines.

Acknowledging that Ford was a man of contradictions, Towhey said Ford was very much the same person behind closed doors as he was in public.

“Very plain spoken with staff, he was focused on how things impacted the average taxpayer, at least the average taxpayer as he saw them,” Towhey said. “He literally did return tens of thousands of phone calls a year.”

Towhey said Ford had a “phenomenal ability to tap into what people were actually thinking in the city, in a way that no other politician I’ve seen, has ever been able to do.”

When he spoke, Towhey said, it was from the voters’ perspective. “He didn’t always articulate why people wanted subways, for example,” Towhey said. “But he knew they did because they told him that in droves.”

How Torontonians – and the world – will remember Rob Ford will depend on when people “tuned in,” Towhey said.

Some only knew him as he gained notoriety as Toronto’s “crack mayor,” Towhey said. “But many others who knew him as a “clean and sober” public servant have a different perspective.

“For the people that he returned those calls to, he’ll always be a friend,” Towhey said. “He’ll always be almost a member of their extended family.”

As for a Ford’s legacy, only time will tell.

“I hope, and I think, that history will treat him a little better than life did, in that 20 years from now, we’ll look at some of the stuff that he got done and the way he approached politics and maybe saw a change in the way other politicians follow him,” Towhey said.