Tributes to Molly

Joe Holley, another former editor of The Texas Observer, wrote of Molly Ivins in the Washington Post, "With an earthy laugh and the husky, drawling voice of a barroom bawd, she was usually the focal point of any gathering of folks who enjoyed telling tales and trading political gossip." Austin's legendary Scholz Garten was a popular gathering place for students and pols, "where pitchers of cold beer helped lubricate the conversation. She loved the game of politics and the yeasty mix of egos, enthusiasms and downright weirdness she was sure to encounter, even when she was dismayed by the outcome."

James K. Galbraith, economist at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, and longtime friend, wrote, "Molly was our magnet, our long memory and our cutting edge. She had a fine, sharp pen, but she was at her best, I think, at home, in company, spinning tales, honing her perfect comic pitch, that fine mix of the telling and tawdry that so captured the spirit of Texas. ...

"My father [John K. Galbraith] loved her (and she him). They were exactly in tune; he saw himself in her. Their purposes and their methods and in some ways their backgrounds and much of their humor were the same. He never came to Austin without saying, 'Fix up lunch with Molly Ivins.' Our last good meeting came after he died; though she was quite weak, I spent several hours diverting her with stories of his last days. Once or twice I made a move to leave, but she didn't want to stop."

John Nichols, associate editor of the Madison, Wis., Capital Times, paid tribute: "The warmest-hearted populist ever to pick up a pen with the purpose of calling the rabble to the battlements, Ivins understood that change came only when some citizen in some off-the-map town passed a petition, called a congressman or cast an angry vote to throw the bums out."

Nichols, who also writes for The Nation, added, that the cheers for Molly "came loudest from those distant corners of Kansas and Mississippi where, often, her words were the only dissents that appeared in the local papers during the long period of diminished discourse following 9/11. ... For the people in the places where no one famous ever came, Molly Ivins arrived a couple of times a week in the form of columns that told the local rabble-rousers that they were the true patriots, that they damn well better keep pitching fits about the war and the Patriot Act and economic inequality, and that they should never apologize for defending 'those highest and best American ideas' contained in the Bill of Rights. And Molly also came in person to many of the towns where papers ran her columns -- showing up in all of her wisecracking, pot-stirring populist glory."

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, told us: "She was a wonderful person. She could take the varnish off anything, right down to the wood. She was a great observer of the inane and the ridiculous in all things political in the United States."

Isaiah Poole, executive editor of and former editorial page editor of the Centre Daily Times, State College, Pa., wrote, "It took my getting a job outside the Beltway to be exposed to Ivins regularly. It may be that papers like the Washington Post found her a little too plain-spoken and sharp-elbowed for inside-the-Beltway discourse. She knew that when it comes to the hypocrisy, double-dealing and shortchanging of the people's interest in governments from Washington to her beloved Texas, it takes more than a genteel butter knife to cut through it. Most importantly, she proved the effectiveness of straight-talking progressivism in swaying minds. ...

"She was not a columnist who told us which way the wind was blowing. She was determined, with all of the breath that she could muster, to change the direction of the wind, and to get us to join her."

The generosity of her spirit also is measured in her devotion to the American Civil Liberties Union and The Texas Observer. Her devotion to the Bill of Rights was absolute (except, perhaps, a little wobbly on the Second Amendment), and Ivins traveled around the country to speak to ACLU chapters free of charge. She was a member of the board and chief fundraiser for the non-profit Texas Democracy Foundation that publishes the Observer. She donated royalties from her bestseller, Shrub to keep the chronically underfunded paper afloat.

"I think it's going to become more and more important to keep those little independent voices alive," she told Salon in 2000. "I really do think we're going through a period of concentration of ownership of media, and we're starting to see the effects at the editorial level, and it's all bad. This increased pressure for profits every quarter, smaller news hole, less coverage of important stuff -- the extent that it's become one giant infotainment industry."

A thousand friends, admirers and colleagues showed up for Molly's memorial service Feb. 4 at First United Methodist Church in Austin.

When Rev. Kathleen Jones paid a visit to her bedside, Molly quoted the theologian Karl Barth that "pastors should preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other." Jones said, "I told her I tried to do that, especially when the newspaper carried a Molly Ivins column."

Jones added, "Molly was on the record favoring the New Testament over the Old, but I believe the roots of Molly's values were in the Prophets. They were all about justice, mercy, the liberation of the oppressed and speaking truth to power. If they had Molly's sense of humor they might have had a better a following."

Lou Dubose, a former Observer editor who worked with Molly on Shrub in 2000 and Bushwhacked in 2003, said "Molly didn't have readers; she had a constituency," He added, "She was such a sucker for the little guy who stood up against the bullies and the bastards. ... I've lost count of the number of people from small towns who told me that twice a week Molly Ivins showed them they weren't alone."

She seemed incapable of hatred, he said. "Molly sustained outrage without being mean. She suffered fools gently." He proposed the issuance of "WWMD" bracelets, which could double for "What Would Molly Do?" and "What Weapons of Mass Destruction?"

Despite the cancer, which took her through three rounds of chemotherapy, Molly maintained a vigorous schedule in addition to her twice-weekly column. In September, she finished another round of chemotherapy, then fulfilled her longtime ambition of taking a 10-day raft trip down the Grand Canyon's Colorado River. Fellow rafter Dave Richards, a longtime friend, said he initially had doubts about taking her along, but "as the river trip progressed, she seemed to get stronger and stronger."

Then on Sept. 18, she buried her friend, Ann Richards, who died of esophogeal cancer at age 73. On Oct. 8 hundreds of friends, pols and writers "barbecued" her in Austin to raise funds for the Observer. On Nov. 15, Molly gave a lecture on "The Future of Journalism, Slow Death or Suicide," as the Mary Alice Davis Distinguished Lecturer of the University of Texas School of Journalism in Austin. Jim Davis, who presented Molly with the award for his deceased wife, noted that Molly spoke and answered questions for an hour, then apologized because she was too weak to go to dinner with him. The following evening, she accepted an award from the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, gave a similar speech and answered questions. Her last public appearance was a Jan. 14 fundraiser for the Observer. Despite the threat of an ice storm, she insisted on being driven to the event so she could thank supporters.

Dave Richards noted, "She was a great person to run the river with. Sadly, that run is over."

Swamp-rock queen Marcia Ball closed out the service by playing two of Molly's favorite songs, "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" and, as the recessional, "Great Balls of Fire." She said Molly undoubtedly would have sung along, adding, "We've lost a great voice -- but not a great singing voice." -- JMC

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2007

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