Ray Guy has gone to That Far Greater Bay. The news that, at age 74, he passed on last night came as a shock around here. Not that it was unexpected; we knew Ray had been very sick with cancer, but more the realisation that we had lost one of our greatest writers, satirists and journalists. As much as he would chide me if he heard me saying this but it was more like we, as a people, lost a wise elder or ancestor.
Ray’s stories defined post confederation Newfoundland whether it be tales from Bung Hole Tickle or his biting and withering commentary on the political and powerful. That Far Greater Bay is a literary icon of Newfoundland culture and society. For a generation of Newfoundland writers and artists Ray was the touch stone. In a place that reeks of creative talent, quick wit and sharp tongues that is a testament to his impression on our culture.
Many of Newfoundland’s contemporary writers and journalists owe him a lot. For many of us he was our Twain, Leacock and even our Hunter S. Thompson …all rolled into one. He feared none and never shrank from pulling back the curtain on the windows of Newfoundland’s politicians, merchants, clergy and conmen.
While I had read many of his books and stories throughout school and early career I first met Ray in 1993 when Macleans magazine sent me to photograph him for a story he was writing for them. I don’t remember the story exactly but something about Newfoundland and confederation …the never ending story. After the usual shots around the house I knew it wasn’t working. Contrary to his public image, Ray was a shy and self-deprecating man and putting him in front of a camera didn’t help matters. I did know he loved his garden so suggested going outside to the greenhouse. We talked and made pictures for a bit and when we were done and I was packing up my gear when he said, “You know what I think about how Newfoundland has been treated by Canada?” Perhaps sensing I needed something more dramatic, he reached down and picked up a dried maple leaf, shot me an impish smile and tore the leaf in half.
I pushed the button.
Since then I’ve had the opportunity to hire Ray as a columnist for fledgling papers and magazines and we always had a good chat when our paths crossed out and about the town. He has written for just about every media in Newfoundland and Labrador in the past and was still writing for the North East Avalon Times newspaper up until March. When we discussed the state of and expected lifespan of newspapers in Newfoundland he told me, “I’ve had so many newspapers shot out from under me I don’t even think about it anymore.”
Somehow, out of his huge and diverse body of work, his quip about Newfoundlanders having a gene pool the size of a Dixie Cup still makes me laugh. So true, so funny.
And as biting as his critique could be he always did it in a funny, entertaining style. Although this may not always been his intention. His book That Far Greater Bay, won a 1977 Stephen Leacock Award for humour.
A native of Arnold’s Cove, Placentia Bay (That Far Greater Bay) his perspective was always of this Newfoundland more than the pompous Townie view of many writers, academics and journalist wannabees. Today’s co-opted disingenuous marketing buzz word for it is “authentic.” He graduated from the journalism program at Ryerson in 1963 and joined the Evening Telegram in St. John’s. During the reign of premiers Joey Smallwood, Frank Moores and Brian Peckford Ray Guy was described as a one man opposition.
In our age of polished PR, media cheerleaders and self-aggrandizement where nobody likes a critic anymore, Newfoundland lost a little bit more of its soul with the passing of Ray Guy.
For more on this celebrated Newfoundlander you can follow these links.
Ed Riche on Ray Guy …another fantastic Newfoundland writer on his friend and mentor.