Mary Tyler (Molly) Ivins
Aug. 30, 1944, to Jan. 31, 2007
Today is Molly Ivins' birthday. Born August 30, 1944, she would have been 69 today if she hadn't left us way too soon.
They say that in this life, and in the newspaper business, no one is irreplaceable. However, whoever came up with that old saw obviously was not taking Molly Ivins into account. It's been nearly seven years since her death on Jan. 31, 2007, from breast cancer complications and, thus far, absolutely no newspaper columnist has come forward to replace her, much less even hold a candle to her in my estimation.
What can I say? Molly was one of a kind. Sometimes I think that her picture should be next to the word "unique" in the Webster's Dictionary.
For those of you who are not as familiar as I think you really should be with Molly, Wikipedia has an awfully good bio of her --better than their usual -- that I would recommend you read. Here is the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molly_Ivins.
In my life, I have met only a few people who I have felt had Molly's intelligence and almost none who possessed her level-headed, rapier-sharp wit that allowed her, through her columns, to absolutely eviscerate some of Texas' and the nations' most pompous, idiotic and/or corrupt politicians in what can only be described as a good-natured fashion. No other columnist I have ever read has displayed greater skill at revealing that the emperor has no clothes.
I was honored to have had her as a friend.
Molly and I first met in early 1983, just days after I was promoted from business editor to assistant managing editor for news and projects at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. At the time, she was still with the now-defunct Dallas Times-Herald. A mutual editor friend there knew how much I admired her work, how closely our political views meshed and that I was making a trip to Austin for a first visit to the Star-Telegram's bureau. So, after getting a cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die promise from me that I would do or say absolutely NOTHING that could be construed as trying to recruit her, he arranged for me to meet her for lunch -- Dutch treat, of course.
I think we hit it off almost immediately. Of course, not before I became something of a victim of Molly's wit and ability to cut right to the core of almost any issue at hand. Moments after we met, she took the opportunity to graciously congratulate me on my promotion to the assistant managing editor's job.
"You should be very proud," she said, staring at me with her eyes that always seemed to be chuckling on the inside. "You are now one of the top editors at the best paper in Texas that nobody of any real consequence reads."
By that time, I'd been with the paper about a year and realized immediately that she had hit the nail squarely on the head. In fact, I am not sure that anyone of any real consequence in the state of Texas ever did read The Star-Telegram until Molly joined the staff in 1992, seven years after I had moved on. One of my great regrets is that I never got to work directly with her.
From that point on, the lunch became a matter of friends sharing war stories, with Molly particularly interested in my years in Mississippi at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, where I began my employment as the leader of the investigative team and left five years later as managing editor. She was particularly interested in my numerous run ins with Mississippi politicians, particularly with U.S. Sens. John C. Stennis and James O. Eastland -- two stereotypical deep South politicians for whom she had zero respect.
My story that she seemed to take the most delight in involved Eastland, chairman of powerful and influential Senate Judiciary Committee. A reporter friend, who had become Eastland's press agent, arranged for the senator to meet with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat while Sadat was on a trip to Washington shortly after winning the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize. My friend told me that he ushered Sedat into the senator's office and that Eastland greeted him warmly. Sadat was an incredibly brave man who withstood the enmity of most of the Arab world by making an enduring peace with Israel, the feat that won him and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin the Nobel Prize.
The two men chatted amiably for over an hour and when Sadat left, my friend went into the senator's office to ask him what he thought about the Egyptian leader. Eastland's response in its entirety, according to my friend: "You know, I never realized that he was a (n-word)."
Molly just smiled and shook her head.
From that lunch on, Molly and I remained friends and we chatted by phone many times in the intervening years between my departure from Fort Worth and my return to Texas as editor of The Monitor in McAllen. She even consulted with me by phone before accepting the offer to join The Star-Telegram Austin Bureau staff, asking me what I thought. My advice to her: "Do it. It may make the Starlegram the best paper in Texas that everybody of any consequence reads." She got a chuckle from that.
When I arrived at McAllen, one of my first calls was from Molly, who welcomed me back to the state and informed me: "You know, of course, that The Monitor is probably one of the best papers its size in the state that nobody of any real consequence reads." We talked of her perhaps paying a visit and conducting a seminar for my staff, but, unfortunately, that plan never came to fruition. Although, I am not quite sure why.
What I am sure of, however, is that the news of her untimely death hit me like a freight train. The day she died, American journalism lost one of its greatest-ever practitioners. I think that all of us who knew her will never get over missing her.
Happy Birthday, Molly.
P.S. My thanks to my friend Mary Lee Grant for her sharing of the Facebook post that reminded me that today is Molly's birthday.
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