Syndicated political columnist Molly Ivins died of breast cancer Wednesday evening at her home in Austin. She was 62 years old, and had much, much more to give this world.I had the pleasure of meeting Molly once. She came to Alaska to speak at one of our fundraisers during the Summer of 2003. It was unseasonably warm that week(over 80 degrees!) and the air conditioning in the banquet room was not working. All of the 400+ people jammed into the room were dripping with sweat, including Molly, who was sitting next to me. Just before it was time for her keynote address, she turned to me, put her hand on my knee and said with that delightful twang, "Sugar, would you be a dear and bring this old gal a glass of icewater." Never have I moved so fast. Sadly, it was during that trip to Alaska that Molly found out her cancer had returned. But that didn't stop her from going on a fishing trip with her good friend Fran Ulmer or from returning to Anchorage to do a second, fully air-conditioned, fundraiser a week later.
She remained cheerful despite Texas politics. She emphasized the more hilarious aspects of both state and national government, and consequently never had to write fiction. She said, “Good thing we’ve still got politics—finest form of free entertainment ever invented.”
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Her full list of books and awards will be abbreviated here. In addition to compilations of her brilliant, hilarious liberal columns, she wrote with Lou Dubose Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush (Random House 2000) and Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America (Random House 2003). She was working on a Random House book documenting the Bush administration’s assault on the Bill of Rights when she died.
Molly, being practical, used many of her most prestigious awards as trivets while serving exquisite French dishes at her dinner parties. Her awards include the William Allen White Award from the University of Kansas, the Eugene V. Debs award in the field of journalism, many awards for advocacy of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the David Nyhan Prize from the Shorenstein Center at the Kennedy School at Harvard. Although short, Molly’s life was writ large. She was as eloquent a speaker and teacher as she was a writer, and her quips will last at least as long as Will Rogers’. She dubbed George W. Bush “Shrub” and Texas Governor Rick Perry “Good Hair.”
Molly always said in her official résumé that the two honors she valued the most were (1) when the Minneapolis Police Department named their mascot pig after her (She was covering the police beat at the time.) and (2) when she was banned from speaking on the Texas A&M University campus at least once during her years as co-editor of The Texas Observer (1970-76). However, she said with great sincerity that she would be proudest of all to die sober, and she did.
She worked as a reporter for The New York Times (1976-82) in New York and Albany and later as Rocky Mountain Bureau Chief covering nine mountain states by herself. After working for the staid Times where she was heavily edited, Molly cut loose and became a columnist for the Dallas Times Herald. When the Herald folded, she signed on as a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. In 2001, she became syndicated, eventually appearing in 400 newspapers.
She never lost her love for The Texas Observer or her conviction that a free society relies on public-interest journalism. She found that brand of journalism the most fun. In recent years she shamelessly used her national and international contacts to raise funds for the Observer, which has always survived on a shoestring. More than $400,000 was contributed to the feisty little journal at a roast honoring Molly in Austin October 8.
Molly’s enduring message is, “Raise more hell.”
Molly, thanks for everything. You will be missed.