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Thursday, October 17, 2002 – Print Edition, Page R9
ST. JOHN'S, NFLD. -- Ray Curran, a career public servant, unionist, advocate of Newfoundland history and culture, and social-justice activist, has died in St. John's of colon cancer. He was 54. Mr. Curran's social and labour activism found him on the frontlines of anti-apartheid protests and national strikes, while his work as a public-sector project officer led him to visit every single community on the island of Newfoundland. His own strong interest in Newfoundland history, specifically his home turf of Newfoundland's Southern Shore, led him to research, create and donate a remarkable collection to the provincial archives.
His father, Edward, was a fisherman, and Mr. Curran was the second-youngest of seven born to him and Anna Sullivan Curran. Growing up in Ferryland, he played cowboys and Indians, with real horses, on the Ferryland Gaze. At 13, he was listening to Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs. He graduated from St. Joseph's High School in Ferryland, studied briefly at Memorial University, and worked for the provincial government. He quickly moved to the federal civil service where he spent the bulk of his career.
Mr. Curran's civil-service career was far from the rubber-stamping operation government work is sometimes perceived to be. He found vital seed money for many arts, native, francophone, youth and women's groups, including Oxfam and the newspaper La Gabateur. Much of his work was with Human Resources and Development Canada as a program consultant or program officer. As one of many examples, he was among the first HRDC officers to recognize the importance of Rising Tide Theatre's proposal for a season of plays in Trinity, an idea that has matured into an acclaimed summer season with an international profile and become an anchor of the growing tourism industry.
At least two of Mr. Curran's commitments had a national stage. He was an area joint co-ordinator in the 1991 Public Service Alliance of Canada strike, which was ended by legislation but did embed a workforce-adjustment agreement that proved to be a landmark.
And when the cod moratorium was announced in 1992, Mr. Curran was at the forefront of those designing employment and income-replacement programs for Newfoundland (which would eventually be known as TAGS). One of his major battles was fighting an entrenched, biased view that Newfoundlanders were lazy, dependent people.
"He had no hesitation in challenging the bureaucracy," said his wife, Cindy Curran. "He felt Ottawa was trying to design a program made in Ottawa, for Newfoundland that didn't fit and he was not afraid of stepping on toes." Some mandarins felt, for example, that the Newfoundland workforce should pack up and move to work in the Ontario manufacturing sector. Others denounced the alleged Newfoundland "welfare mentality."
Such misperceptions deeply bothered Mr. Curran and he would confront them, although he was not, by nature, hotheaded. "There were times Ray would be in your face," said Ms. Curran. "But he had to try to appear to be angry."
"He wasn't an angry man," said Bill Hynd of Oxfam. "He wanted to act positively. He was concerned with social justice, but he never expressed himself in an aggressive manner." Instead, he would participate in protests against the visiting apartheid-era South African ambassador and allow his picture to be taken. He assisted with an Oxfam fisheries linkage between Nicaragua and Renews.
"He was an up-front guy," said Mr. Hynd. "His concern came from the gut, and being well read and wanting to know more. He knew the hot spots and would ask, what was going on, and who was causing it, and what can we do?"
Mr. Curran served five years on the board of Oxfam, and also served with Emmanuel House, and the Brother T. I. Murphy Centre, among others.
Mr. Curran was first diagnosed in July, 2000, and learned last January that the disease was terminal. His attitude toward his illness and death was generous and unflinching. He held a living wake, inviting 200 people to his "54th and last birthday party." He posed for a series of sketches for visual artist Gerry Squires (he had earlier appeared as James the Lesser in Mr. Squires's The Last Supper) "because he said, everyone does the series of baby pictures, nobody documents the other end," said Ms. Curran. When faced once too often with the cliché that nobody knew how long they had to live, that one and all could be hit with a Mack truck tomorrow, he said he would phone Mayor Andy Wells to inquire about the prevalence of marauding, lethal Mack trucks on the streets of St. John's. He refused extreme treatment for his illness, and continued to renovate his house and pursue an anthropology degree at Memorial. And he finished compiling his extraordinary, 30-year historical record of the Southern Shore.
"Anyone who walks in from the Southern Shore will be handed this collection," said Greg Walsh, manuscript archivist with the provincial archives. "I wish I was from the Southern Shore."
Mr. Curran's donation includes 15 bound books, some 10 centimetres thick. "We have some of the original material in big ledgers, or correspondence, but he went through and noted every reference to the Southern Shore. He saved someone else hours and hours and hours and hours of time and money. It's very unusual," said Mr. Walsh.
Mr. Curran's material includes a transcribed diary of the Rev. M. D. O'Driscoll (1874-1881), decades of birth, death and marriage certificates arranged by community, every headstone inscription and other cemetery information from Cape Broyle to Renews, a 1935 district census, a thorough culling of the St. John's Basilica records for any mention of the Southern Shore and transcribed articles from St. John's newspapers such as the Royal Gazette.
"Once, he went to someone's home and transcribed the diary of Thomas McCarthy, 1927," said Mr. Walsh. "And he put it all on disc so eventually we can put it on a Web site. It's an incredible concentration."
Quick-witted, humorous, always siding with the underdog, Mr. Curran was an avid, eclectic reader. When the Globe published a list of the top 100 books, Mr. Curran had read 98.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Curran leaves daughter Marianne (in Calgary) and son Damian (Edmonton), as well as stepson Chris Morrison (Sunnyvale, Calif.) and stepdaughter Lindsay Morrison (St. John's).
Raymond Patrick Curran, public servant; born in Ferryland, Nfld., June 14, 1948; died in St. John's, Aug. 16, 2002.
Page Revised by Craig Peterman (February 20, 2013)
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