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Ferndale mayors remember the late Mayor Robert Porter

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published February 11, 2020

 Former Ferndale Mayor Robert Porter, right, died Feb. 3 at the age of 71. He served 12 years on the City Council, starting as a councilman in 1996 and ending his tenure as mayor in 2008.

Former Ferndale Mayor Robert Porter, right, died Feb. 3 at the age of 71. He served 12 years on the City Council, starting as a councilman in 1996 and ending his tenure as mayor in 2008.

Photo provided by Cristina Sheppard-Decius

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FERNDALE — A former Ferndale mayor whose influence helped the city through a rough patch has died.

Longtime resident Robert Porter, 71, died Feb. 3 from cancer. He served on the Ferndale City Council as a councilman from 1996 to 2002 and as mayor from 2002 to 2008. Porter is survived by his wife, Ruth, and son, Brad.

Described as a “consummate leader,” “big-hearted” and “charming,” Porter left this world with not only a lasting effect on those close to him, but on the city of Ferndale as a whole.

Former Ferndale Mayor Craig Covey served as mayor after Porter and served for eight years with him on City Council. Covey said one of the things that Porter was most proud of during his time was his leadership to get a bond passed in the 1990s to help rebuild infrastructure in the city.

“The city was kind of in rough shape in the ’80s, early ’90s, before it turned around, and the roads were crumbling, the sewer system was ancient, the water mains were rusty,” he said. “He took charge of an effort to pass a fairly hefty bond levy, a bond issue, and pulled (it) together.

“What he was good at was he pulled together disparate groups and communities in Ferndale to support this for the betterment of the city,” Covey continued. “He had links with the seniors, with the police and fire, with the young people and homeowners, families, and really was able to pull folks together from all spectrums to support that. And then it passed, and that really was what laid the groundwork in the mid ’90s for the resurgence of Ferndale that then occurred over the next 15 years.”

Though Porter left the City Council in 2008, he never stopped trying to help Ferndale when he could.

Former mayor and current Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter recalled how he would hear from Porter on issues affecting Ferndale, big or small, and that it was valued on his end because the job of mayor is unique.

“Whether it was a catch basin that had leaves on it to his advice about our road bonds, he was always willing to share his advice,” he said.

Coulter said he first worked with Porter when he was the county commissioner serving Ferndale. It was then that Coulter saw Porter’s hands-on style of being mayor.

“He loved the operations of government,” Coulter said. “He would go out with (Department of Public Works) crews or to a fire run and watch how these services got delivered. He was very attentive to those details, and I think he was very well known for that.”

Aside from his role in local government, Covey will remember Porter for how fun and sociable he was.

He recounted how, when walking with him in Washington, D.C., Porter was able to strike up a conversation with anybody on the street and that he had an amazing way of talking to people, regardless of who they were.

“More than anyone I knew, you put him in a crowd, he would immediately begin talking to folks,” Covey said. “He would meet people on the street, he would talk to them.”

When current Mayor Melanie Piana first moved to Ferndale, she met Porter while volunteering at the Downtown Development Authority. He eventually would appoint her to the first board she would serve on in the city.

Piana said Porter was a leader and public servant who was giving with his time and was someone who always stayed in tune with what was going on. Piana also gave Porter credit for increasing the bond amount that would help pay for the redesign on Nine Mile Road.

“Bob was just a gregarious character,” she said. “He loved being involved in this city and loved finding solutions to the challenges facing this city.”

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