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Rex Murphy and Catherine Swift. Photo Supplied 


There have been a lot of tributes to the incomparable Rex Murphy over the last few days since his passing was made public, but I can’t resist one of my own. I was privileged to know Rex for quite a few years, starting with a number of occasions on which he interviewed me on CBC radio’s Cross Country Check Up when I was President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, typically on issues relevant to the small business community. Although Rex was known mostly for his extensive vocabulary, Newfoundland origins and unique sense of humour, he had an encyclopedic knowledge of a wide range of issues and could speak with intelligence on pretty much anything. This is likely why he managed to host Cross Country Check Up so successfully for over twenty years – an amazingly long run for a program on radio or any media. 

The first time I heard him speak at a conference was just after Justin Trudeau was first elected in 2015 and he had Trudeau’s number from the get-go. One comment he made stuck in my head. He said “I don’t like to be told how to live my life by someone less intelligent than me”. Everyone knew about whom he was speaking. Despite Rex’s own intelligence and breadth of knowledge, he was always humble and despised elitists, especially those of the Laurentian variety. 

That was one of the key reasons he was so beloved by average Canadians as he really was one of us. It’s also why he was never appreciated by the elite set. Following Rex’s passing, someone commented that Trudeau would have it somewhat easier now with him gone. That is sadly true as Rex’s criticisms of Trudeau may have been caustic but they were always right on target. 

Over the last six years or so, I got to know Rex much better as he took a shine to the Coalition of Concerned Manufacturers and Businesses of Canada (CCMBC) where I am currently President. He attended a number of our events as a keynote speaker or introducing another speaker. He was always topical, funny and immensely literate, weaving references from literature, famous historical figures and other often obscure texts into his presentations. 

One of Rex’s quirky habits was he liked to refer to women friends (I think it was only women) by the wrong name but with a name that started with the same letter as the woman’s actual name. I had an email correspondence with him about three weeks before he passed away, in which I was variously referred to as Clementine, Cecily and Claudia. When he first started doing this in our conversations I thought he just didn’t remember my name but soon realized this was a fun game he liked to play. 

Indeed, the fact that I had an email conversation with him just a few weeks ago, in which he was chipper, funny and his usual erudite self, meant that his passing shortly thereafter came as a total shock. Rex was an immensely private person and although a number of us knew he wasn’t well, it was still shocking when we found out he was gone. In fact, we had discussed his attendance at our upcoming Gala dinner, which he had previously attended. Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre had prepared a tribute video to Rex that we planned to play at the event while we gave Rex an award of behalf of the CCMBC in appreciation of all the support he had given us over the years. Hearing of Rex’s passing, Poilievre sent out the video on his various social media accounts. 

Rex seemed to get into journalism by default. He tried politics in his younger years, running for both the Conservatives and the Liberals in Newfoundland and losing every time. He worked for politicians as an assistant and researcher. He ended up at the CBC, initially in Newfoundland then in Toronto. That was the CBC’s heyday, with talented journalists such as Barbara Frum, Peter Gzowski and Knowlton Nash and programs Canadians actually wanted to watch. As CBC moved further left and became more “woke”, Rex parted company with them in 2015 and wrote for the Globe and Mail and then the National Post. Apparently, he filed his last column a couple of days before he passed away. 

Rex was a relentless defender of freedom of speech, the press and freedom in general. Average Canadians loved him because, even with his highfalutin language, they knew he was one of them. I like to say that he had “Rex appeal”. We won’t see his like again. RIP Rex. 

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