Accolades to a retiring Ray

Bob
Bob Wakeham
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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 bwakeham@nl.rogers.com.

Organizations: The Times

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Flatrock, Portugal Cove Torbay Northeast Avalon Times

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  • Gerald Barnable
    May 14, 2013 - 20:53

    We honored him, but we didn't honor him enough. We'll never see his like again. There are pieces of his that I'm always quoting and there are other pieces that choke me up so much I can't repeat them.

  • Winston Adams
    April 01, 2013 - 15:10

    There are bad Nflders, green Nflders , good Nflders and great Nflders. The great ones are few and far between. As to politicians, perhaps the only great one was Robert Bond. He put his personal fortunate on the line as security for our country during the financial collapse around 1895. He finally abandoned politics due to the greed and corruption here. I believe he left his house in Whitbourne to the province and it fell in ruins. He is without the honour he deserves. Ray Guy has spent his life exposing the self interest, greed and foolish actions of those in power in our province. In my younger days, I, like many, being a bit green to the ways of those in power, thought Guy's writing was just funny and entertaining. Gradually I realized the truth and wisdom contained in his writings. I know some who have studied Plato or Aristotle for enlightenment. I find this in Ray Guy. Usually the truth is so damming that it would not get published if not wrapped up in what we call satire. How often does Bill Rowe, on VOCM Open Line say " We can't say that, it may be libel". Bill won't chance to rock the boat. Ray always rocked the boat, when it served to expose skullduggery. The Great Ones are recognized long after their passing. Sometimes long, long after. As far as I know, Ray has never been made a member of the Order of Canada, or Order of Nfld., which, I guess is fitting, because he is in a league of his own. One of the Great Ones. I suppose on his final passing, pray it not be soon, some will give him his due. Ray's bite, insight and wisdom will surely be missed, given the arrogance of the current crop of politicians and businessmen. Ray retired? On reading of this in the Northeast Avalon Times, I felt a tear trickle down. Say it ain't so.

  • Stamp
    March 31, 2013 - 19:22

    Although Ray Guy received some recognition for his work, I have always thought he deserved more. A pretty eclectic individual, Guy's accomplishments span journalism, humour, screen writing, acting and even botany. But I think his single most important contribution to this province was his role in bringing down the Smallwood government. Smallwood wielded almost absolute power for the better part of 23 years, crushing opposition with a degree of ruthlessness and deviousness still not widely understood. The slightest criticism could meet with personal repercussions that included lost employment, access to government services, and business opportunities. Outside a handful of opposition members, there were very few who had the courage and smarts to take him on. One of those - arguably the best of those - was Ray Guy. Week after week he gnawed away at Smallwood's arrogant, inept and corrupt regime. So caustic were his columns at times that it was a tribute to the Herder family (then owners of the Evening Telegram) that they dared print them. What made Guy so effective was his brilliant use of satire. Even die-hard Liberals couldn't help but laugh at this out-harbour upstart. It was Moores who finally polished off Smallwood, but it was Guy who made it possible. He deserves great credit for his contribution to democracy in the province. For the benefit of younger readers, the Telegram should consder republishing some of his best pieces.

  • Fraser March "From Sunny Blaketown"
    March 31, 2013 - 17:20

    Ray Guy taught a whole generation that it was OK to challenge the power of the State. He, by example, showed that it was acceptable to laugh at our political masters. This is seemingly not a big deal today when we pour, namelessly, volumes of factless opinion without argument which the media prints. It was a big deal however during the Smallwood years. Ray Guy made it easier for those who confronted power within NL. and on behalf of NL. Ray Guy seemed equally annoyed by state and non-state concentrations of power as was demonstrated by writings dealing with student organizations and the church. Whether you were on the receiving end of his social satire, or allied with same, you had to conclude that he shook up the system which, in hindsight, was good for NL. democracy.

  • T.Sanford
    March 31, 2013 - 12:54

    Amen!

  • A Ray Guy Fan
    March 30, 2013 - 11:59

    Didn't even know Ray was still writing in the NEAT, must dig it up to see if I can find any of Ray's archived material. Always got a good laugh from Ray's particular brand of political satire and social commentary, and it always seemed to be bang-on. Wish he was back on H&N with his armchair/fireside chats. Cheers Ray, thanks for all the chuckles, but please don't be gone permanently. Look forward to your odd column in The Telly, OK?