Newfoundland writer Ray Guy dead at 74

Andrew Robinson and Josh Pennell
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Columnist, journalist, playwright wrote with wit, intelligence

Newfoundland writer Ray Guy.

The province has lost one of its most celebrated and revered minds, a person known for excelling at sharing his thoughts on the printed page with intelligence and wit.

Ray Guy - who was born in Come By Chance, grew up in Arnold's Cove and most recently lived in St. John's - died Tuesday at the age of 74.

Always in demand for his thoughts on matters of importance and highly regarded for his fictional and journalistic writing, Guy spent more than 50 years putting his name to stories, columns, plays, and satirical essays, among other works.

He had remained active as a writer until shortly before his death - Guy announced in March that he was retiring from writing, penning his last column for The Northeast Avalon Times that same month.

"I'm sure that by now I've expressed just about everything at least three times before," he wrote in his final column for the paper. "Including the fact that over the years I have gradually cut back in this trade until there was only The Northeast Avalon Times left."

He went on to bemoan the present media landscape.

"If you want any real news go out in the yard and talk to a neighbour over the fence."

Bob Wakeham wrote a commentary commemorating Guy's career at the end of March in The Telegram.

"It's certainly ironic that I wrote that piece just a few weels ago," says Wakeham. "I would think in Ray's irreverent way he would probably say, 'Good timing, Wakeham.' That's the way he was."

Wakeham calls himself lucky for having known Guy as a friend.

"I don't know if anybody ever got extremely close to Ray. He was your quintessential eccentric. But he was a delight to be around," he says.

A graduate of the journalism school at Ryerson University in Toronto, Guy was hired by The Evening Telegram in the early 1960s and eventually started writing a political column for the paper. He remained full-time with The Evening Telegram until 1974, returned as a columnist in the 1990s and later played an editor for the paper in the 1992 film "Secret Nation."

Craig Wescott, publisher and editor of The Business Post, says Guy's writing about the provincial government in a province where the government is bigger than in any other showed true grit.

"To take on the government is a brave and courageous thing to do and Ray Guy did it. And not only did it, he was so successful at it because he made fun of a powerful institution and got people laughing at the government, which is quite an achievement."

Westcott adds that Newfoundland and Labrador is a place where politicians can strut around like peacocks, if left unchallenged. Guy's pen kept them in check.

"He had a real, keen sense of how to pluck the feathers out of them."

"The Daily News started to have a column on the House of Assembly," Guy told The Telegram in a 20 Questions feature in 2008. "Then The Telegram had to have something to match it, and I happened to be in that place at that time."

A collection of his work for newspapers and magazines was published in 1977. "That Far Greater Bay" was awarded a Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.

"He was the Mark Twain of Newfoundland and Labrador," says Westcott.

In the same 20 Questions feature in 2008, Guy spoke about the challenge of writing pieces in a satirical manner.

"This satire business, that was one of the worst things that ever happened to me. I was certified funny," he said. "From then on, I had to be funny - people expected it. Twice the work for the same pay."

Guy authored several books over the next 30 years. His most recent ones - "Ray Guy: The Smallwood Years" (2008) and "Ray Guy: The Revolutionary Years" (2011) - compiled a large selection of his Telegram columns from the 1960s and '70s.

Guy was a regular for many years on CBC's "Here & Now" broadcast, providing commentary pieces for the program. Wakeham was the producer of the program at the time.

"He had a sense of what Newfoundland and what Newfoundlanders are all about," Wakeham says. "He told us more about ourselves than anybody else did."

Later, Guy became a columnist for the print edition of The Independent newspaper.

On television, Guy was one of the stars in a late 1970s half-hour program on CBC called "Up at Ours," appearing alongside Mary Walsh.

Walsh later directed and starred in a theatre production written by Guy, "Young Triffie's Been Made Away With." In 2006, a theatrical film version of the play was released, once again directed by Walsh.

Guy reached movie star status in the province, says Westcott. He describes Guy as a shy individual in a public role.

"I don't now if he was ever comfortable with that," he says.

Memorial University awarded Guy an honorary doctorate in 2001.

His writing not only informed and entertained, it also inspired.

"There's a few of us, I guess, who try, even ever so poorly, to even come half-assed close to what Ray used to do," says Wakeham.

In his hand, a pen was a weapon when married with his keen observation. Westcott says Guy's last column in The Northeast Avalon Times was as good as anything he had ever written.

"The old cliche 'the pen is mightier than the sword' - in Ray Guy's case, it really was true."

josh.pennell@thetelegram.com arobinson@thetelegram.com Twitter: @TeleAndrew

 

Organizations: Ryerson, CBC, Daily News

Geographic location: Northeast Avalon Times, Newfoundland, Arnold Toronto

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Recent comments

  • M.Maude Helms
    October 30, 2013 - 14:30

    Trying to locate a poem written about Joey Smallwood in the 60's..only line I can remember is "he tucked his nightshirt around his nees and floated down to hell..." It was in a newspaper there but don't kno what one...any ideas ?

  • Sharon
    May 17, 2013 - 23:23

    Such a profound loss. He would probably cringe if he could read this, but Newfoundland has been truly blessed and lucky to be able to claim Ray Guy as one of our own. Rest in Peace, good sir. You will be fondly remembered and greatly missed.

  • George Penney
    May 15, 2013 - 14:43

    My condolences to Ray Guy's family, both the immediate and the admirers of his pen. Words will never be adequate to show the entertainment value, the political motivation or the depth of his insight into matters politically and economically important to Newfoundland. His wit and well aimed satire over the years have kept many a politician on the straight and narrow. His pen has given him immortality and a well deserved place in the annals of this province's history.

  • Mark
    May 15, 2013 - 10:52

    Sadly, it is such a big loss for NL, but not enough recognition is being given nation-wide. He wasn't just a great Newfoundland and Labrador writer. He was a great Canadian writer, like Farley Mowat or Robertson Davies. Ray Guy wasn't even given an article on the home page of the National Post. That's ridiculous.

  • Ed Power
    May 15, 2013 - 08:08

    This is truly a sad day. Ray was one of the best, our very own Mark Twain. A writer who could make you laugh, cry and scream in rage, often in the same column. A true genius with the written word. .He will be missed

    • Phil Walters
      May 15, 2013 - 09:10

      Fond memories of Ray Guy's column in the Telegram. When I started working in St. John's in the late 60's it was a mad rush at our office to grab the telegram to read his daily take on Joey's government. He was fantastic.

  • DON II
    May 15, 2013 - 08:04

    To PJ STAMP: You said everything I wanted to say about Ray Guy and his great impact on media, arts and political awareness in Newfoundland and Labrador. I extend my sincerest sympathy to the family, friends and fans of Ray Guy, he will be greatly missed.

  • Just The Facts
    May 15, 2013 - 07:38

    Allow me please to echo the well-written sentiments of P.J. Stamp. He is spot-on when describing the vital contribution of Ray Guy to the evolution of real democracy in Newfoundland. As a young lad, I'd hurry home every afternoon to grab our copy of the then "Evening Telkegram". First order of business was to read Ray Guy's column from the Provincial Legislature. This man stuck a fork in the pompous asses of the buffoons of the Smallwood Regime. That took a lot of intestinal fortitude at a time when careers were made and lost on the whim of the Premier's office. All Newfoundlanders owe a debt of gratitude to Ray Guy. He helped restore dignity to our democratic process and reminded us of what is truly best within the heart of a Newfoundlander/Labradorean. Rest in Peace, good Sir, you will be missed and long-remembered.

  • PJ Stamp
    May 15, 2013 - 01:15

    History often preoccupies itself with the principal actors on the stage of life. Only rarely does it pay attention to those who play a lesser role, including the many character actors whose appearance can be pivotal if brief. Ray Guy was not a politician of note, a captain of industry, a media magnate; he was not among the shakers and movers who dominate the stage and capture the spotlight. And yet, mixed among Mr. Guy's many other accomplishments, it was his role in the evolution of democracy in our post-Cofederate period that deserves more than a foot-note in the history of this province. He came on the scene when the political management of Canada's newest province was a blatant repudiation of the tenets of democracy. While others in the fourth estate were cowed - reluctant to cross a petty, vindictive administration - Ray Guy was not. He showed dogged determination along with intelligence, insight and courage that regularly exposed corruption and political intrigue. Beyond a handful of worthy opponents in the Legislature, none more than Ray Guy proved a bigger thorn in government’s side. He had an uncanny sense of the public pulse. His command of language and his brilliant use of satire made him among the most readable of writers. Yet Guy the person was self-effacing and private. Despite his stint in front of the camera, he neither sought nor felt comfortable in the spotlight. His name doesn’t appear in the win column, but students of this province’s early history well understand the enormity of his contribution in defeating a rogue administration and ushering in a new standard of political accountability. His passing is a great loss of intellect. At a time when conscientious Canadians of all political persuasions see a renewed threat to our democratic institutions, the memory of Ray Guy should serve as a beacon for those determined to defend them.

  • Kim
    May 14, 2013 - 21:16

    So sorry to hear about Ray Guy's passing.He made reading fun:)As a child growing up I always read his funny stories first ;) I sometimes get in trouble for disturbing the rest of my class for my uncontrolable laughter that always followed reading his stories:) Rest in peace Mr. Guy,your ability to make people laugh will live on forever!

    • John
      May 15, 2013 - 07:53

      Mr. Guy's contribution to the Times was what I used to look forward to when picking up a copy. I was also fortunate enough to have Mr. Guy speak at my convocation from MUN. What I remember about Mr. Guy's speech was he kinda put out a "call" to NL graduates to stay and make a contribution to the province and reinforced the need for young educated NLers to stay in the province and look for and create opportunities here, not just go to Alberta. This is something myself, and I'm sure other graduates took to heart. Just another example of how Mr. Guy stood up for the province, we need more like him.