Oration | Address to Convocation
Ray Guy was born in Come By Chance, Placentia Bay, and attended school in Arnold's Cove and Bell Island before attending Memorial University and Ryerson in Toronto.
After graduating from Ryerson's journalism program in 1963, he started work as a general reporter at the St. John's Evening Telegram, eventually becoming the legislative reporter at the House of Assembly. It was here, while writing a daily column on the goings-on in the house, that Mr. Guy earned his reputation.
His biting satire was usually trained on Premier Joey Smallwood and his government, but Mr. Guy was also known for his humourous essays on Newfoundland outport life.
Mr. Guy left the Evening Telegram in 1974 and worked as a freelance journalist, playwright and commentator in the years since. In 1978 he began an acting career as a regular cast member of Up At Ours, a situation comedy series produced by CBC-TV in St. John's. He also had a short run as an actor with the CBC-TV The Gullages.
Three collections of his columns have been published: You May Know Them As Sea Urchins, Ma'am (1975); That Far Greater Bay (1976); and Beneficial Vapors (1981). In 1978 Guy wrote the text for Outhouses of the East, which was illustrated by Sherman Hines' photographs.
In 1967, Mr. Guy won the National Newspaper Award for feature writing for No More Round the Mountain, which appeared in the Evening Telegram on Oct. 6, 1967, and in 1977 he was awarded the Stephen Leacock Medal For Humour for his book That Far Greater Bay.
Oration honouring Ray David George Guy
Shane O'Dea, Public Orator
One cannot think of satire without at the same time thinking of Jonathan Swift, that great Irish polemicist whose epitaph gives the measure of the man: in death he had gone "where fierce indignation [could] no longer tear his heart." And one is tempted to draw connections between Swift and this man before us for are not both fathers to their nations' penchant for satire? Are not both the breeders of bile, lacerators of corruption, lancers of the boil that suppurates on the body politic? Perhaps, but one has to tread warily here for Jonathan Swift was an urbane, sophisticated churchman one who moved in the great circles of 18th century society. Mr. Guy, as he has so frequently told us, is only a bayman.
This qualification makes him as distant from Swift as the king is from the commoner. Swift was born in Ireland but would have preferred to have made his career as a British bishop rather than a Dublin dean. He was one who was a supporter of political privilege; at times he was a political hack - but always a very good one. Ray Guy was born in Arnold's Cove and eventually came in to Memorial University. His first attempt at getting a decent education was disheartening, if instructive. Taking Arts, not the requisite outport degree in Education, he found himself defined as unsophisticated, rural, rough. He left after two years, worked for his father and then did journalism at Ryerson.
In the late 1960s, when Guy was in full flight at the Evening Telegram, Arnold's Cove started to become the centre of the Newfoundland political universe. It was one of the receiving communities for the notorious Resettlement Program; it was adjacent to Come By Chance and its refinery; its people worked for ERCO in Long Harbour. Each of these was a major political event at the time. ERCO had poisoned the waters of Placentia Bay; Come By Chance had caused a major rift in the Liberal cabinet and resettlement was being seen as a form of culturicide. For Ray Guy these projects were all the spawn of Smallwood, he who had brought us into Confederation, had wanted us, so legend tells, "to burn our boats" and so diminished our sense of ourselves as people. Ray Guy's parting from Smallwood came at a press conference when the premier commented, off the record, about the capacity of our fishers to take felonious advantage of a new federal insurance policy. Guy was appalled at this appeal to dishonesty which he saw as a violation of the integrity of our ancestors.
So, though no Dublin dean, like Swift, Guy had reason for his "fierce indignation" for he was watching his moral and material patrimony sold for the use and abuse of strangers. Yet, for all that cause, he writes in a different vein than Swift, less savage, more subtle. He takes his cue from another Irishman, Oliver Goldsmith who advised that "ridicule was ever the enemy of enthusiasm" and cut the ground from under Smallwood, no mean master of ridicule himself. Covering politics in what he called "the land of the rising scum," in the House of Assembly, Guy parodied Smallwood's great announcements. At one point Joey, in full rhetorical flight described a Labrador lake as "six times larger ... than the Sea of Galilee" and Guy reported the event in biblical prose, "And it came to pass in those days that ... Joseph gathered together all the scribes and high priests and them that were exceedingly brown of nose and did pass ... into Lab-rador meaning the Land Joe Gave to Doyle. [And he spake unto them saying] Behold, O ye congregation of hangers on; we passeth over an exceedingly stunned people ... they seemeth not to know [a] bee from an bull's hoof... Verily, I say unto you they are like unto a manner of people that falleth to the ground and misseth. But fear not for in stunnedness they were conceived and in darkness and superstition they do travail from generation unto generation." Column by column, he chipped quietly away at the face of the idol, until, in 1971, that idol fell to be replaced by a Tory party committed to the outport, to Newfoundland and to good government - well, at least for a time. Ray Guy had the satisfaction of seeing the politicians he had condemned, put out, and what he had praised made promises. Few satirists can achieve a goal like that.
A reserved man, he was never one to play the celebrity even when he won several National Newspaper and Magazine Awards, or the Leacock Medal for Humour, or was made a member of the Canadian News Hall of Fame. It took him a while to appear in public even if he had written for stage and television. When he did appear, on Up at Ours and Gullages, he was a success. But for all his reserve and skill, his work life has been far from perfect. A love-hate relationship with the Telegram and its proprietors was pursued in tandem with an equally tempestuous relationship with the CBC from which he was fired when writing the Bung Hole Tickle monologues. Why? Because his wife had taken over as producer and there would have been a conflict of interest. Little wonder that he calls marriage the Sacrament of Acrimony.
His influence has been strong because he writes of people, not just of politics: of his outport childhood (his "juvenile outharbour delights"), and of characters like Aunt Cissy Roach, the termagant of the Witless Bay Barrens. He has a remarkably sensitive ear to the nuances of Newfoundland speech and character. The depth of that nuance is attested to by his realism. He does not romanticize the outport as a look at any of his plays will tell you. This realism can also be found in one of his earlier columns about a group of students who had graduated and gone away. Writing to them he said, "If you stayed here it would not be easy. But if you tried hard you could do something you could not do in Toronto. You could change things. You could help make [Newfoundland] be what it should be." That is the lesson found in all his work: that Newfoundland is a place where "a person might live to the end of his days and never cease to marvel and wonder." I present to you, Mr. Chancellor, for the degree of doctor of letters, honoris causa, one who has stayed, one who has encouraged us to stay and one who has brought us back, Ray David George Guy.
Address to convocation
by Dr. Raymond Guy
May I thank all concerned for this great honour. And apologize to all of those who actually had to work for theirs. I will always display this proudly even if it means having to move my Karl Wells fridge magnet.
Frankly, I was at first on two minds about it. On the one hand I think of those memorialized by this university. And of those who helped pay for it and for providing it with students - especially those who stuck their arms into the ocean among icebergs.
And I consider the long line of graduates from it and how they have increased the name of Newfoundland in the world. On the other hand it struck me forcibly that this puts me in the same club as Joey Smallwood, John C. Doyle and Brian Mulroney. Back home in Bung Hole Tickle that could get me shot. You see my difficulty.
So I'm glad I was kept waiting, and waiting, until Mary Walsh and Rex Murphy got in before me to share both the danger and the glory. I'm told I have to speak to the graduates for a few minutes, if I am to be the first on my block to own one of those lovely big floppy hats. Just the thing to keep off the solar death rays around here while digging in the back garden.
To lessen the wear and tear on all of us, my first thought was to keep it short. Pete Soucy - he's the actor who does the character Snook, the world's most famous St. John's corner boy - Pete tells me he once taught school in Clarenville where he heard the world's shortest convocation speech. The principal at that time was a man of few words and fewer letters. The way Snook - I mean, Pete - described him, he would have been happier and more suited to the job of night watchman in a Turkish prison for women.
"Well, this is it," says the principal on graduation night. "Youse are goin' out into the real world now. I only got two things to say to you. "One: I never ever wants to see any of your faces again. And, two: If youse got any high hopes goin' out of here - forget 'em!"
And that was it. I can't do much better than that here this evening. I mean what could I say - now that I'm eligible for 20 per cent off on Tuesdays at Value Village - what could I say that would be of the slightest use to you.
What could any war-weary veteran of the era of Future Shock in Newfoundland say to you, today's Rising Generation. I wouldn't even presume.
I mean we, a lot of us, did our homework by the light of kerosene lamps. Today, when my personal computer turns ugly my primal instinct is to grab a crowbar and knock some civility into the brute. When I left home for the first time all the airplanes were still spelled "aeroplanes", had propellers and took eight or 10 hours to get to Toronto.
I was a big lug in my early 20s but my mother grabbed me by the sleeve at Torbay Airport, as it then was, and gave me some last words of advice. "Always say 'yes, sir,' or 'no, ma'am,'" she said. "And 'please' and 'thank you.' And if you ever get a chance to go to a toilet, for Mercy's sake, go!"
She knew, you see, that while Toronto might consider itself a cradle of civilization, they had no convenient alder bushes on Yonge Street that you could duck behind when your top teeth were floating.
That was the advice my mother gave me to be going on with back in 1960. I get the feeling that any advice I could give you here today would be no more and no less useful. So feel free. Take notes. Mind your manners and never miss a chance to go to the can. Toronto hasn't got any better.
What I can tell you, ladies and gentlemen, is that your parents, your grandparents and their generations are extremely anxious, some of them panic-stricken, that you will now leave Newfoundland.
You see, we are the pig that got swallowed by the python. That huge blob of so-called Baby Boomers who were once the Pepsi Generation and which is now moving down the digestive tract and is just reaching the 60-year old mark. Newfoundlanders have always left home but perhaps never in these proportions and never under these circumstances.
It all came together for me a few years ago. There were then many stories in the news about what was quickly tagged "The U-Haul Trail." I remember one old geezer - hey, that's me - in some place in Bonavista Bay.
"That house is empty and that other house is empty," he pointed out for the TV camera. "There's an old lady still lives in that house. Them other two will be empty by the fall. I lives in that one, two old fellers have got together to live in that one, that one's empty, that one's empty."
Street lights were being shut off in many places. Community council busted up in despair. The last child to be born - or was it the last child to attend school - in some south coast town made a pitiful news item. A profound wave of guilt and shame came over me. I felt guilty and ashamed for myself and my generation. Is this the bloody awful mess we've left for the, quote, "youngsters." Shouldn't we have bawled and yelled louder, ranted and roared more, hacked and slashed and fought to ... to do what? To make Newfoundland a place worth staying in, I guess.
It took a while but I got over it. No less and no other than Mr. Brian Tobin took the great load off my conscience. Mr. Tobin sailed back here carrying nothing but a large surplus of self-regard and a bag of the same old political tricks.
And the great Newfoundland voting public fell heavily for him. Even every journalist in the province waved palm branches for Tobin's triumphal entry into Jerusalem. All except me and Mrs. Jessie Toope who's written columns on the Girl Guides ever since our Blessed Lady flew up from Brownies. Tobin was in like Flynn. Well, thank you, Jesus, says I. Oh, what a great relief.
It isn't all the fault of us old fogies. Because, by now, the great Newfoundland voting public must have included some of you - the Rising Generation. It isn't my fault. Their grandparents wouldn't listen, their parents wouldn't listen. And now, if they, too, want to make a hard bed they must lie in it. Or skeedaddle to Alberta.
You see what a heavy weight falls on the backs of sovereign princes, deputy mayors of Mount Pearl and on newspaper columnists? At any rate, I considered that patriotism for my generation is not the same thing as it is for yours. Or for the generation that came before mine.
To people after the War, people like Harold Horwood, Greg Power, even Joey Smallwood himself, Newfoundland patriotism meant a merrily-savage battle for Confederation with Canada. In my own time, "patriotism" for many of us meant saving Newfoundland from the rotten, mad and destructive dictatorship that the Smallwood administration had become.
I still cannot forgive Joey Smallwood for the wickedly low estimation he held of the Newfoundland people; any more than I can yet forgive Newfoundlanders for living down to that estimation. Back then, Newfoundland was still to some of us a Country, with a capital "C". We believed it could still be saved, fixed and lived in. At that time you were considered a high traitor if you even got delayed overly long at Halifax Airport.
That, I realize, has long changed. I must have got an inkling some years ago. Our youngsters were then about 10 and 12. We were out driving and when we came to the top of a high hill overlooking the countryside and the ocean far below I stopped the car. "Look, youngsters," I said. "Behold your patrimony. One of those days all this will be yours."
There was a loud and sudden duet of retching and vomiting noises from the back seat. Perhaps my timing was a bit off. It was, as I recall, the middle of a particularly dirty March. Since then, our own youngsters, now in their early 20s, have lived and worked in such places as Dublin, Cork, Hollywood East, Khatmandu, Osaka, Vancouver and Rio de Janeiro.
So who am I to whine at you here tonight. "Sonny, don't go away, we are here all alone." But I dare say you do get some horrific emotional blackmail from my generation. "Who's going to buy us our walking frames and wheelchairs. Who's going to pay for our gin and Viagra and other medical necessities. If you all go, what are we going to do for potential kidney donors."
All that sort of subtle Newfoundland persuasion. Pay no heed and go. Don't mind us. We'll get along somehow. Things are quite rosy. Even though we just came within 14 votes of Premier John Efford. Even though in the next provincial election we may get the wonderful choice of one fellow who could possibly buy Confederation Building versus another fellow who might, possibly, sell it.
Skeedaddle. Bundle and go. Go if you want to. Or go if you must. In which case I do apologize for the cost of your bellybutton. Well, you do have one, don't you? I do and mine cost me $15. I know this because my mother once told me so. She paid the doctor at the Come By Chance Cottage Hospital $15, cash on the barrelhead. My sister's cost only $10. Naturally, I put on great airs about this and we used to have some jolly old spats concerning it. Still do, occasionally.
Unfortunately, you still owe a lot more than that for your navels. At a guess, I'd say the bill is now around $24,000 each. That is the share of the provincial debt owed by every little Newfoundland girl and boy the instant their umbilical cords are cut.
That's because we, your parents and your grandparents burnt our credit cards on both ends. So do keep a sharp eye out. Your $24,000 bellybutton hasn't been paid for and at any time the Credit Bureau may pounce. They may try to repossess it.
But, hey. It's a Newfoundland bellybutton. Wherever you go in this world wear it with pride. And if you stay in strange hotels, better hide it under the mattress. Seriously though folks - and where have we heard that before? - seriously from a professional fool, I do hope some of you can stay. That some of you can come back. And that some of you will always want to.
This is a fair piece of geography we've got hold of here. One day we may straighten out the hideous kinks in the Canadian federation, one day we may stop electing fools and crooks.
There is no better place than Newfoundland, I believe, for a jolly good battle. Like the Irish, "all their wars are merry and all their songs are sad." And when have the English ever been shy of a bit of bluff and hearty mayhem and plunder?
Your grandparents had their lovely war and so did some of your parents. It may be in your genes. But you will have to decide what your own glorious battle is. All, I can tell you, there's no fun like it. When Joey finally quit the scene - and let me tell you here: We think we have wonky politics, others have worse. Regard the last election in the mighty United States. Out of, what, 300-million people they had to pick a son of Bush. Bush the First and Bush the Second. What the dickens are the Yanks up to - after they made such an unseemly fuss about getting rid of poor mad George the Third.
Sure, we've got abominable politics here. But as far as I know, as near as I can gather, as close as I can reckon, after Joey Smallwood left there was no great public outcry in Newfoundland to replace Joey with Bill Smallwood. Might have been just as well if we had, but that's another story.
When the great and hellacious era of Smallwoodism finally ended I was writing a daily newspaper column. It had taken a long time and a heck of a lot of effort to shift him. What a long and merry bunfight it had been.
I think I rather lost it that day. Yes, I lost my famous Bung Hole Tickle cool and let rip. I addressed myself directly to Government House. Well, where else? "God save the Queen and Your Honour the Queen's Lieutenant," I wrote in what was then the People's Paper. "We have run the dogs hard aground and have hanged them high at Cape St. Mary's." Silly, self-indulgent and childish? Oh, yes. But there is a saying among the people of my village; "It felt a dreadful kind of good." We said dreadful, you say awesome.
I would wish you all that peak of satisfaction. Go or stay as you will or must. Mind your manners. Don't pass up a chance to go to the can. Hang on to your expensive bellybuttons. And if some of you can see your way clear, find yourselves a dear and fine Country with a far greater bay. If no one else does, call yourselves to the colours of that Country. Give the enemies of that Country no quarter and hang them high on the mighty and splendid Cape of your own choosing.
Thank you and my best wishes.
© Copyright 2002 Memorial University of Newfoundland