Wednesday, 15 May 2013

ODE TO RAY GUY

Ray Guy has been immensely honoured as one of Newfoundland and Labrador's most beloved writers. Rightly so.  He was truly one of a kind, an inspiration, a gifted man, a true cultural icon.

He singularly played a role in the downfall of former Premier J.R. Smallwood, which even today, is not completely understood. 

The very idea of lining up, in front of the little Shop in the Thompson Student Centre at Memorial University, in anticipation of the arrival of what was then called the "Evening Telegram", must seem an anachronism in today's digital world.  But, line up we did.  There was always a dozen or so students who were determined to be among the first to read the wisdom of "Aunt Sissy Roach", the unclothing of Smallwood and his cronies and every one of his words and expressions, especially the irreverent ones. 

As much as we encountered sheer joy in the reading of his renderings, Ray Guy taught an entire generation of Newfoundlanders, that it was fine to be sceptical and  that it was right to offer politicians our disapproval.  He confirmed, by the sheer power of his pen, that the emperor could be stripped of all his clothes. He sure as heck stripped Smallwood's and entertained, even thrilled us, at the same time.  OH, Ray, how we took delight in your magnificent talent! We applaud you. Rest in peace.

As the Muskrat Falls issue gathered steam, last year, the current Administration having taken on the rather Smallwoodian characteristic, of pillorying critics, I penned a piece to the Telegram which the Paper published on March 26, 2012, entitled "Calling Ray Guy".  I am pleased to re-publish it here. - Des Sullivan
 
CALLING RAY GUY 
Ray Guy, please come back! We need you now, as much as in the ‘old’ days when Joey Smallwood became his own political dynasty.  Politicians like Crosbie, Wells and Hickman, though vital to his downfall, were mere mortals alongside a leviathan and a terrifyingly entertaining pen.  From you, we found the courage to criticise ‘The Only Living Father’, and learned that courage is essential to maintaining an open and vital democracy.   

Ray Guy, we need you back!   The government is arrogant and unwilling to countenance argument and common sense.  It says it will spend $5 billion on Muskrat Falls; you know, Ray, that government will never spend $5 billion when it can spend $7 or $8 billion. They will bankrupt us, Ray.  The Premier and her Minister of Natural Resources are sleepwalking us into the abyss. 

Ray, we need the clarity which you always elicited from Aunt Sissy Roach.  She, not one given over to blandishments, once opined a simple truth: “A house is a house and a pimp is a pimp…”. The government could learn something from someone of her depth. Aunt Sissy was a bit rough.  She did call you a ‘mawmouth’, but that is no cause to ban her from current discourse.  After all, Ray, were you not responsible for putting words in her mouth?

Sir, I appeal to your sense of duty, for I submit, only you possess that rare perspective that is underlain with the strength of character of the decent folk of “That Far Greater Bay”. You possess the ability to restore clarity to the issues, to demand respect from politicians and to cleanse, at least for time, what has become rotten in our little abode.

We need you, Ray.  We need to hear your words of both insight and irreverence; words that have the capacity to lay bare the emperor once again.

And, why not come back, Ray? It is not as if our media were overcome with wisdom or the boldness with which you made your mark, the kind that made Joe Smallwood run for the sherry cabinet.   

Yes, we have Wangersky who is in every respect a brilliant editor but he must respond to a multitude of issues and constituencies; similarly, Wakeham and Frampton. Randy Simms, well… Randy has declared the Muskrat decision already made and has raised the white flag on intestinal fortitude!  Cochrane of CBC is clever but he needs to tell CBC brass that the constant parade of petty criminals on the evening news is not what makes public debate flourish.  

But you, Ray Guy, are the confirmed cultural polemicist of our time, the one person who has thrived on contrariness and argument.  You are the undisputed king of editorial writers, the Mohammed Ali of the struggle between transparency and concealment.  The American philosopher, Harry Frankfurt, once wrote that “…bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are”. But you, Ray, can tell us the difference.

Ray Guy, please come back! Your contemporaries have done it. Leonard Cohen has gotten a second wind; P.D. James, at 92, is still entertaining us with stories of bad guys and even Gordon Pinsent yet receives more plaudits than a cake baker at a church raffle.

If patriotism doesn’t cut it anymore Ray, let me appeal to a baser instinct, simple greed.  Think, Ray, of being paid by the word; what Dickensian payments could be extracted in this time of “Dunderdale”; as surely as Muskrat Falls is a hydro project, the Premier is a wind farm: full of bluster and not to be completely relied upon. 

And to fill any blank spaces there is always Jerome Kennedy, Nalcor’s messenger on the Muskrat file, soon to experience, I expect, the same popularity as Brad Cabana at a Tory leadership convention.  Jerome’s destiny, like that of a former Member under Joey, will be to find acknowledgement by having himself paged at the Holiday Inn, an early version of social media.  

Clearly, Ray, it would be slack-ish work; ideally suited to your unique talent; perfect for someone called back from retirement.

2 comments:

  1. You are spot on Des with this one. Such a sad day for all of us who has lost yet another of our Kings. I do believe that "That far greater bay'
    will be read by Newfoundlanders to the end of time. It is who we are as a people and indeed a race. There are 100,000 Newfoundlanders that willnever leave the legacy that he has. He was I think one unique writer.
    He will never be forgotten.
    Roderick Brentnall
    Toronto

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  2. I loved Ray Guy's writings, and I grew to view him as a wise and courageous person. That he could tackle such serious issues with humour lifted my spirits and always brought a smile, and hope. He exposed the hypocrisy of our political leaders and clergy, and encouraged us to see we were often being misled.
    I lost track of Guy and wondered why the CBC and the Telegram didn't continue to take advantage of his talents, perhaps expecting his services for little compensation. I was surprised a couple of years ago to see he had been writing for some time for the Northeast Avalon Times, a free local newspaper serving St. Philip's to Logy Bay. So most of our population missed his wisdom, and wit.
    On one occasion to our cottage around the bay, on a Friday afternoon I picked up the Times. At Bay Robert's my wife and I went to Tim Horton's. She went to order as I took a table, with the Times in hand to see what Guy was saying.
    My wife and I are from Bishop's Cove, and grew up exposed to the wit and humour of the Upper Island Cove people near by. They tell the story of Bert Hussey, who claimed to be in the Navy in the second world war. Some say he never Nfld waters. To ridicule Bert's war stories, someone made up a story to show how well Bert was known worldwide. They said: Bert was on a war ship off the coast of Africa. They were running short of fresh water. The Captain asked for volunteers to go ashore. Bert was the first to volunteer, and so the Captain sent them off with Bert in charge. Soon they herd drums beating, but Bert carried on through the thick jungle. They came to the source of the sounds. Bert could see the natives were about to sacrifice a girl in some ritual. Bert's crew were frightened, but Bert burst through yelling "what's going on here"? The chief, surprised, replied 'Is that you Bert"?
    So even in darkest Africa Bert was well known, or so it goes. In fact, Bert was a relative of my wife. I remember him with hair slicked back and always dressed in shirt and tie.
    I tell that story because the phrase "is that you Bert" is used often by my wife, who is visually impaired. She may easily mistake someone else for me in a mall or shop, so as she approaches me, she will say 'Is that you Bert'?
    On that day at Tim Horton's I was so obsessed with Ray Guy's piece that I didn't notice my wife walk past with tray in hand. Then I heard her familiar voice, as if in distress, say softly "Winnnston". I looked and saw her 20 feet past me by a table where a lone gray hired man, some 10 years older than I, was sitting. I replied to her "up this way".
    She was not pleased. She said "you're supposed to be watching out for me. And you sitting there reading that paper. Didn't you see me go by? I went up to that man, like a fool, and said "Is that your Bert? I thought it was you. And do you know what he said? He said 'No, but I could be'"
    I thought it funny, for the minute. The man, a little later walked by our table, and seemed a little confused, as, looking back our way, he stumbled a little, and walked on.
    I since think of this as the time I almost lost the love of my life, on account of my admiration and love for Ray Guy. He will be missed by many.
    My first encounter of Uncle Gnarly, I thought it was a creation of Ray Guy, and learned later it was Des Sullivan, but one can see Guy's influence. Keep up the good work.
    Winston Adams, Logy Bay

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