May 19, 2024
Rex worked literally to the end. His last two columns, on the October 7 pogrom in Israel, its dreadful aftermath and the failure of Justin Trudeau’s government to rise to the occasion with honour, written on his deathbed, will be remembered as amongst the best he ever filed.

Rex Murphy was the people’s intellectual

He wore his erudition lightly and took his audience seriously

Robert Rex Raphael Murphy was a great Canadian. His profound erudition could have led to a career in academia, but, fortunately for us, Rex chose journalism because he hated footnotes. In voice and print, Rex communicated his point of view with a coruscating flare unanimously agreed upon as unique amongst Canadian polemicists. His vast mental archive of poetry, essays and famous speeches, casually dipped into here and there to embellish his theme, made other writers (including me) gnash our teeth in awe and envy.

Some Canadians, mind you, suspicious of people with an extensive vocabulary they dare to use on a quotidian basis, found Rex’s eloquence pretentious. He was once parodied on This Hour has 22 Minutes and there’s a Facebook “Rex Murphy Stinks” page. (But there’s only nine members.)

Perhaps the most salient fact in explaining Rex’s peculiar distinction in the world of journalism is the fact that he was a Newfoundlander, born two years before the Rock joined Canada. Growing up in Newfoundland endowed Rex with a lifelong attachment to that special place, whose weather, landscape, strong affiliation with British cultural values and precarity of life shaped his character and moral compass. Newfoundland gave him a “special zone of the mind,” as he once told an interviewer, adding, “It’s a very oral place,” so the hardships Newfoundlanders had to endure found expression in “irony, sarcasm, or in some cases, even poetry.” Rex’s passion for politics can also be attributed to growing up in a province where the legendary political icon Joey Smallwood was, apart from the weather, the main topic of conversation.

In a CBC 1994 documentary, Unpeopled Shores, a threnody to Newfoundland’s collapsed cod fisheries, Rex unsentimentally described his home province: “It has no soil, its trees are dwarfs, we have fog for ozone. It’s bare and stark and bleak, yet affection for Newfoundland is stronger than a chemical dependency.” His humble background there gave him a lifelong sensitivity to the challenges of the poor and the “little guy,” like the unemployed Newfoundland fishermen who found work in the Alberta oil patch.

Interesting Read…

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