I’ve spent quite a bit of time fiddling around, wandering the room, checking electronic messages, anything at all to keep from sitting down and actually having to write this. You can pretend, sometimes, that until you actually write something down, codify it, that it actually isn’t true. And then, all at once, it is.
I was lucky enough to spend a fair amount of time working with Ray Guy — in the same office when we were both at The Sunday Express, and battering into one another in different workplaces for years afterwards, with Ray always ready to sidle over in one of his rumpled sweaters to ask what I thought about one news story or another as he dropped off a column or got ready for one of his CBC weekly appearances.
His writing? It speaks for itself.
In fact, I write the way I do somewhat because of Ray — he was the first person I’d met in the news business who seemed perfectly happy to let his own voice ring clearly through a profile or a feature piece, willing to recognize that being objective is often folly and that the best thing you can do is to recognize your own subjectivity and make it clear. You knew what Ray really thought.
You knew how he felt personally, too. He was demonstrably funny, moody, occasionally angry — he was a larger version of a human, but one that would always go out of his way, especially post-explosion, to let you know that he knew how ridiculous he could be.
I came to work one morning to find a sheet of paper taped to the inside of the paper’s glass front door at The Sunday Express.
The note said said that Ray’s computer had eaten his column — again — and that he wanted me to try and find it, wherever it was. (We were so thin on the ground that I did some IT, too.) He’d left a trail of sheets of paper down the hall to the office we shared, each one with an arrow pointing towards the office, and every other one with a swear word, all in capital letters. Plenty of work to plan and execute, especially after having had more work vanish in front of his eyes.
His desk faced the door, so I came around the corner to the see the back of the machine.
When I got around to the front, the screen was covered with another sheet of paper, on which Ray had written “But I fixed the f----r.” (He used all the letters.)
He’d taken one of those big old-fashioned tape dispensers, and driven it straight down into his keyboard, smashing the keys in. When I took the paper off the screen, a great long line of eeeeeees just kept spooling out across the screen.
I didn’t find the missing column, and he wrote another and made deadline, just like he’d make deadline at The Sunday Express more than once from his hospital bed after surgery — one of them a column written partially under anesthetic that was so bizarre we
couldn’t run it, although I wish we’d kept it.
This lion of a newsman, this journalist tough enough to stand up to Smallwood’s despotism, was actually far from what you would expect.
Despite his public and celebrated toughness (when people say we will not see another like him, they are right), he was a softie to the core.
When he took an angry phone call, you could watch him literally melt under the onslaught. Public appearances? Among his least favourite things. He was as tough as a lobster in print; up close, that shell was very, very soft.
Most of all, he was so good at what he did because he could take such enjoyment out of almost anything. He was one of those people who could laugh until you thought he’d forgotten how to breathe. He could make you laugh, for sure — but he could sit back and laugh at himself just as easily.
I’ll never forget watching him use the cradle of his telephone as an ashtray while he was on a call — you could smoke in a newsroom then — hang up the phone, and the next time it rang, having the earpiece leave a circle of mashed grey ashes on the side of his head, a circle he might not notice for an hour or more.
That’s probably the best thing to remember about him, the parts away from the dark side and doubts that every creative person lugs around inside.
Demons he had, and apologies he regularly made.
But I’ll remember Ray most in one of any number of absolute fits of giggles, shaking, laughing himself breathless and pulling his knees up to his chest, unable to contain himself.
Cackling with glee.
Knowing as well that his glee would make it to the page, the way, somehow, almost every single thing he saw would.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s
editorial page editor. He can be reached
by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.