Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s public health chief, taking leave of absence for medical treatment — but not retirement — was laid to rest on Saturday at the Church of the Holy Trinity, on Yonge Street, after a long illness.
His body was cremated in Toronto, with his wife by his side, and his ashes interred beneath a white rose at the south end of the Anglican church.
“We have lost a great man,” Dr. De Villa, a lifelong Toronto resident and a former mayor of Markham, told the congregation, which gave a rousing send-off to the doctor who spent his professional life treating the city’s poor.
He was 71.
“We should be proud of what he did for our city,” said Toronto District Health Sciences chief Dr. Michael Colle, who was among the crowd paying tribute.
He spoke for a minute or two about the two-term mayor of the city, whose service included a decade as a city councillor before being elected mayor in the 1993 election, and his work in that role as a physician.
“If you believe in God,” he said, “he does believe in you.”
Dr. De Villa was married with two grown teenage children at the time of his death.
His death followed a year of hard weeks and months after a doctor told him his prostate cancer had spread.
The diagnosis brought a difficult time when he faced an agonizing choice about whether to have his prostate gland removed or to continue his treatment, which would eventually lead to his death.
But his wife was also grieving the loss of her husband.
“It is hard when someone is with you who you thought could be there, not that he wasn’t there,” Mrs. de Villa said, crying softly.
The doctor’s family has donated his body to science for future generations to use in medical research, and plans to eventually donate his remains to the church to become an ancestral plot.
In a letter to the congregation, Dr. Colle said the doctor had always taken what life offered him with optimism.
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“His spirit is his greatest testament to his faith,” the letter read. “He believed that each of us have the potential to