Dear Editor: Since the first time I met Rex Murphy, I felt a portent that he was destined for a position of some prominence — even greatness — in the work world.
Thus it came as no surprise to me when I later read that his former teachers in Placentia, his hometown, said that he had “wisdom beyond his years,” or when a local journalist wrote that Rex had “gone to the moon” with his education.
He, in fact, has become what could be rightfully termed a “superjournalist.”
I first encountered Rex in 1962 during my first year at Memorial, when he was entering university at the age of 15.
He was clearly intellectually oriented, but was also forthrightly amicable and socially sprightly. He was respected, and even revered, by his fellow students from Placentia, and he was influential enough to become friends with a number of his instructors at MUN.
I don’t recall precisely what course he was doing, or what degree he attained, but he was notably proficient in both science and the liberal arts. After graduating in 1966, Rex applied for, and was granted a Rhodes scholarship.
Incidentally, a former philosophy professor, F.L. Jackson, whom I know personally, opined that Murphy would never get this award on the basis of his looks.
Jackson was a member of the committee that interviewed Rex for this honour, and I have no doubt that his looks were irrelevant in light of the fact that Rex’s formidable intellectual prowess enabled him to answer all questions with ease and shrewdness.
I believe that he went on to study at Oxford University, but again, I am ignorant of what degree he achieved there.
I remember seeing Rex on CBC Television's “Here and Now” newscast as a biweekly commentator. His remarks were sometimes humorous and sometimes sardonic, but he was knowledgeable about every matter under the sun, from the evolution of Newfoundland idioms to shameful political shenanigans in this province.
One of his most colourful on-air creations was the observation that Newfoundlanders were so stoic that we wouldn't mind if the Chernobyl nuclear power plant were placed inside Mt. Helena and towed to the island by the original captain of the Exxon Valdez (which caused a gigantic oil spill in Alaska in 1989).
In 1995, Rex became host of CBC Radio’s “Cross-Country Checkup,” and soon established himself as an eminently suitable figure in that capacity.
He was witty and also remarkably well informed about an endless variety of interesting and germane topics. I remember that his first show dealt with deficiences in the Canadian educational system.
During this particular program, he tellingly referred to books as “vital and precious objects of our culture.” Rex was able to attract and hold an audience like a true professional and he was always penetrating, clever and riveting in his comments for listeners.
Around this time, Rex also became a commentator for “The National.”
Here again he displayed extraordinary energy for any topic that he chose to engage his viewers with.
He especially liked to talk on politics, and some of his comments helped to shape my own political views.
He was, however, conspicuously taken to task by a number of viewers for a commentary that confused global warming with the depletion of the ozone layer of our Earth.
Predictably, Rex was entirely unshaken by this faux pas and continued to funnel forth opinions on news highlights and their implications with poise and prominence.
A few years after joining CBC in Toronto, Rex began to write a weekly column for the Globe and Mail, entitled “The Japes of Wrath.” (A jape is a zestfully crafted, sometimes jocular, view of things.)
In this column, his favourite topic was politics, and he seemed to be masterfully aware of anything in government that could touch our lives.
I enjoyed reading these columns, although I probably was in the minority of readers who were not annoyed, to a fair extent, by his sometimes maddeningly esoteric vocabulary.
Murphy now has on sale a book consisting of a collection of his best columns called “Canada and other Interesting Things.”
I have browsed through the book and am as always impressed by the great range of his writing and his knowledge of every significant detail, no matter how minute or remote.
Rex’s latest literary venture is an introductory piece he wrote for a book on Newfoundland English.
This shows that he has been recognized as a preeminent scholar, and his deep wisdom and culture show through clearly here, as in so many other endeavours of his.
When the time comes to offer a eulogy on Rex Murphy, I think that its tenor should evince in part his own words at the funeral of former English professor at MUN, George Story: “We should profoundly appreciate and applaud his august and dignified accomplishments, for we will not soon see his like again.”
Lloyd Bonnell lives in Corner Brook.