Newfoundland writer Ray Guy dead at 74

Columnist, journalist, playwright wrote with wit, intelligence

Published on May 15, 2013
Ray Guy has been hailed as ’Canada’s geatest columnist.’
— Telegram file photo

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." Twitter: @TeleAndrew