That Far Greater Ray

Illustration by Tara Fleming

Fearless Newfoundland writer, journalist and political columnist Ray Guy passed away last month at the age of 74. We asked people who knew him or his work to say a few words in his honour.

Kathryn Welbourn
Editor and publisher, Northeast Avalon Times
Ray’s brilliant voice has been ringing in my ears since I first started reading him more than 20 years ago. It’s his perspective, his savage and beautiful way of seeing everything. I once had a columnist who insisted on swearing in their writing. They just wouldn’t give it up. I finally pointed out to them that Ray never swore, he didn’t have to. His whole column was one big devout curse. Missing Ray, really missing him.

Drew Brown
Political columnist, The Scope
If “humour is a weapon”, as Ray Guy once said, then he was Newfoundland’s atom bomb. He possessed both a blazing, searing wit and, tremendously, also used that power for good. Ray was the real deal. He could harness the black charm of Newfoundland without ever becoming its prisoner. Instead, he could use that fire in his belly to point the way forward; to that far greater bay beyond the false grandeur of Smallwood’s scheming, past Peckford’s navel-gazing nationalist utopia, straight through the ragged republican flag in which Williams wrapped his autocracy, and—most crucially—he could always pierce his own readers’ sometimes stubborn myopia. And he fought all his battles against these tedious political pretensions by being really frigging funny. That is nothing short of heroic. He had a knack for capturing the beautiful absurdity of this place like no one else, and our little slice of the world is incalculably richer because he was here. He deserves a central pillar in the pantheon of great Newfoundlanders, and without a doubt he’d be the first to deface his own monument. That’s exactly why I loved him.

Ed Hollett
Blogger, The Sir Robert Bond Papers
Ray Guy wrote a column the night the Tories beat the Liberals in 1972. Ray wrote that the Tories would never produce the overbearing likes of Joe Smallwood. “That gang in the PC Party did a good enough job of backstabbing each other to prevent any one of them from reaching a Smallwoodian pinnacle of real power.” In hindsight, the column is so well written it could have been more of the keen insight hidden behind humour or a clever phrase that were part of Ray Guy’s skill rather than the naive, idealistic hope that we’d turned a corner and put the old ways behind us forever. Everything you ever wanted to know about politics and society in Newfoundland and Labrador is in Ray Guy’s writing. He was not the first nor was he the only one to publicly criticise Smallwood and the Liberals but he is the one people remember. And years from now people will remember that when Ray’s 1972 prediction proved false all those years later, what never came back in the major local media was Ray Guy nor anyone even vaguely like them. If you look, you’ll probably find Ray wrote something about that too years ago.

Writer, author of Rare Birds & Easy To Like
It is easy to blame the media for the current dearth of keen criticism the like of that which Ray Guy gave us, to say the television and radio stations and the newspapers are toadies for the big businesses that own them, or that the CBC simply lacks the guts. The fault lies instead with the audience. Guy was writing most and best as our colonial inferiority complex was on the wane. He wasn’t blasting Smallwood’s hare-brained schemes and electoral thuggery as much as he was our continued gullibility, our rush to follow, our faith in führers. “[Smallwood] would rant and rave and mock and jeer. If he was attacking the opposition, what a pitiful sight it was. Talk about underdogs. They were underpups yet unborn and their mothers dead.” Local self doubt wasn’t replaced by confidence as much as it was by puffery and self-congratulation. Is there an appetite among today’s sunny Newfoundland boosters for Ray Guy’s take on the irrational exuberance of development on the North East Avalon, on Senator Twice Manning, on what awaits a tourist lured here by those ads? There are so many Newfies now among us that I have my doubts. Read Guy’s piece on Trudeau’s imposition of The War Measures Act and admit he possessed more smarts and nerve than the crowd. It was welcome then, perhaps more necessary now.

Craig Westcott
EDITOR, The Business Post
The first time I met Ray Guy was in 1994. I had just been made the editor of The Telegram’s Sunday edition with a remit to revamp it as I saw fit. Myself and another senior editor invited Ray to lunch to ask if he would write again for The Tely. He had been fired or had quit The Telegram five or six times over the years and the prospect of meeting the great Guy had me nearly scared speechless. It turned out the famous maverick was a very gentle man. Ray’s column ran on page three. One Friday, during the height of the denominational schooling debate, Ray made a crack about the Pope having turned a blind eye to the Holocaust. It was one paragraph in a long column, but my boss insisted it be exorcised. He had just killed an earlier column by Peter Fenwick who had written a satirical piece based on a fictional intercept of faxes between the Pope and fish merchant Bill Barry, a noted Roman Catholic who had strong views on denominational education. I put up a fight for Ray’s piece and said if it goes, I go. Ray got wind of the racket and through his wife Kathy, begged that I not put my job on the line over it. I was still a brash young pup and when my boss refused to run Ray’s column with the jibe at the Pontiff, I quit The Telegram. It was a tough decision because it was the best job I had ever had to that point and nothing has matched it since. But if you’re going to quit for anyone, you couldn’t pick a better man than Ray Guy. Ray raised newspaper commentary to a fine art. It was like somebody had stolen the genes of H.L. Mencken and Mark Twain, mixed them in a boiler of salt beef and cabbage and created Ray. His writing was funny, sardonic and recklessly truthful. Ray Guy was talented enough to write for any major newspaper in the world. But he was sentenced, by his love of this place, to press on in Newfoundland, an island that stones its prophets. But as tough as Newfoundland is, Ray was tougher.

David Cochrane
Provincial Affairs reporter, CBC NL
The first time I met Ray Guy I was 25 or 26 years old and had just started covering provincial politics here. We were walking past each other on the third floor of the old CBC Radio building on Duckworth Street. “You’re that Cochrane fella aren’t you?” Ray asked. I nodded and he added “I like you because you give that shitnuts Tobin a hard time.” I only worked with Ray once. That was during the 2001 Liberal leadership race to replace that “shitnuts Tobin” as Ray called him. It was a big moment for me. My first leadership race. And my first chance to work with a living legend.