Whenever there’s a deluge of political news begging to be satirized — this week alone, we had the continuing saga of Penashue-gate, an unctuous piece of self-promotion called the throne speech and a bumbling, fumbling government stepping on its own financial toes with its budget — I invariably long for a time when we could rely on the incomparable Ray Guy to quickly deliver the type of saucy and brilliant insight that could only be harvested in that fertile and delightfully twisted skull of the man from Arnold’s Cove.
Those of us living in certain bedroom communities on the outskirts of St. John’s — Flatrock, Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, Torbay, and the like — have been lucky enough to get our Ray Guy hit once a month in a decent little paper called The Northeast Avalon Times; not nearly enough of Ray, of course, but a delight nevertheless and we’ll take whatever we can get.
It’s the only place Ray has regularly hung his columnist hat in recent years, the only spot to get his unique and wonderful take on all things Newfoundland. And anybody reading his monthly offering could see he had not lost an ounce of the immense talent and imagination that has given him the reputation of being one of the best writers we’ve ever had, certainly the best to have peddled his immeasurable wares in the newspaper business.
But other than the fortunate readers of The Times, most people had probably thought Ray had long retired or, perish the thought, had taken to banging on an ancient R.C. Allen typewriter in the afterlife, giving St. Peter a hard time for setting the stage for the likes of Benedict and Francis, or even Danny.
Ray, however, is still kicking, more slowly as he enters his 70s, and he has obviously lowered his profile these past few years.
Yakking on the phone a couple of months back, Ray, in self-deprecating fashion, told me how he had been cornered at a grocery store by a woman who wondered: “Didn’t you used to be Ray Guy?”
Well, he still is Ray Guy, the one and only.
Unfortunately, though, when I picked up my free copy of The Times at our convenience story here in Flatrock last week there was a headline on the front page that would sadden all Ray Guy fans: “Columnist bids goodbye to readers.”
And yes, it was the headline for Ray’s final column. Ever. And you can forget a resurrection of the Ray Guy brilliance at some future date in another publication.
“This is my last crack out of the box anywhere, at any time,” he wrote.
Ray basically and bluntly said that he was getting repetitive, that he had nothing new to say, that he had “expressed just about everything at least three times before.”
I, for one, wish he would stay around and continue to pound the powers that be in politics or journalism or business or labour or religion or any other institution in Newfoundland a fourth time, a fifth time, a sixth time; it would never get boring, it’s never been boring.
Sure enough, Ray has the awards and the honorary degrees that speak to his legendary status. And, in all probability, they’re stuffed away in one of Ray’s closets, under a pile of old newspapers and magazines. He’d be the first to pooh-pooh those kinds of accolades.
There are tens of thousands of us, though, who do not need to hear about awards to recognize the impact Ray Guy has had on the Newfoundland psyche.
And I was particularly lucky, as a fledgling reporter in the early ’70s, to have spent several years in the same newsroom with Ray, and it was a treat to have a front row seat as he displayed his skills; we also became friends of a sort and tossed back more than a few drinks together in such classy joints as The Welcome, Dirty Dick’s and The Sting Lounge.
And when I had the power to do so, years later, I hired Ray to do a regular once-a-week gig on “Here and Now.” By any standard, he was a hit.
Not everybody liked him, of course.
Some loathed what he had to say, especially politicians. And that’s the way Ray liked it.
But I’d bet my pension cheque, as small as it is, that Ray Guy had many more fans than he did detractors throughout the years. Even many of those he carved to pieces had to admire his way with words, and his grasp of what makes Newfoundland, and Newfoundlanders, tick.
As my handful of regular readers would know, it was in my retirement years that I found a place in this columnist racket, and it has helped me appreciate, in a small way, just how great Ray Guy was when he was writing at least four columns a week for the then Evening Telegram. How he maintained the level of excellence, day in and day out, is mind-boggling.
A few years back, a reader who had implied on a number of occasions that my modest contribution on Saturdays caused him to projectile vomit his morning toast believed he had given me the ultimate insult when he wrote in an anonymous email (like all anonymous emailers and bloggers, he was decidedly lacking in gonads): “You’re no Ray Guy.”
Duh, ya, as the kids say. No shit, as I would say.
Of course, I’m no Ray Guy.
There never was another Ray Guy. There’ll never be another Ray Guy. There’s Ray. And then there’s the rest of us.
And that’s why his retirement constitutes a profound loss for Newfoundland.
Needless to say, he will shoot me on sight if he happens to read what he will undoubtedly and playfully view as one of those obituaries
that newspapers prepare well in advance of someone of note being laid out for “viewing.”
But, sorry, Ray: someone had to say something about your departure from the news business.
I’m glad it was me.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.