I lost a friend yesterday. Even though we'd never met, and she wouldn't have recognized my name, her death left me mourning her as I would the passing of a friend.
Her name was Molly Ivins and, for the last thirty-five years, she'd been a liberal political columnist, journalist and author. Her favorite beat was the state of Texas which, according to the New York Times, she'd called "reactionary, cantankerous and hilarious,' . . . its Legislature was 'reporter heaven.' When the Legislature is set to convene, she warned her readers, 'every village is about to lose its idiot'.”
Although Molly was born in California, she grew up in Texas and rarely strayed far from the state for very long. She spent a brief time in the North earning her reporter's credentials but, when she was twenty-six, she came back to Texas to help jumpstart the civil rights movement here. Last fall, she commented in an interview that the state wasn't noticeably grateful for her return. She was hired to be the managing editor of the Texas Observer, the closest thing to an alternative paper this state has. There she developed her folksy brand of political commentary, which was at turns caustic and loving. She's the one who first dubbed George W. Bush "shrub" and "Dubya."
Molly went after the corrupt Texas Legislature (she called it "The Lege") with a vengeance and built quite a following for her straightforward, devastating wit. In 1976, she was lured away from Texas by the New York Times. She scared the hell out of their editors who couldn't decide what to do with her. They finally shipped her off to be their Rocky Mountain Bureau Chief (she claimed there were no other NYT employees out there in Colorado) and, in 1982, she was fired for calling an annual chicken kill by a N.M. community a "gang pluck."
Not deterred, Molly returned to Texas to go to work for the Dallas Times Herald. That's where I discovered her columns. I was still trying to adapt to life in Texas, and reading her columns helped give me some perspective about the state and its people. I eventually came to realize that, yes, Dallas can be pretentious, but it is also the biggest small town in the world, with all of the advantages of a world class city as well as the advantages of a small town. The people are warm and good-hearted in addition to being very proud and conservative.
Today's New York Times reported that, in order to lure her back to Texas, the Times Herald "promised to let her write whatever she wanted. When she declared of a congressman, 'If his I.Q. slips any lower, we’ll have to water him twice a day,' many readers were appalled, and several advertisers boycotted the paper. In her defense, her editors rented billboards that read: 'Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?' The slogan became the title of the first of her six books."
Molly died yesterday at age sixty-two of the breast cancer she had been fighting since 1999. Her death came only four months after that of former Texas governor Ann Richards and marks the passing of yet another great old Texas broad. Both Molly and Ann were women who began their public lives in a era when women were still mostly housewives, teachers and nurses. They lived to see enormous change in our culture and to help influence that change.
Today is a little gloomier because it is the beginning of a world without Molly Ivins. Raise a glass in toast to her tonight.