Missing Molly Ivins

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Molly Ivins, the Texas liberal, populist, straight-talking newspaper columnist, who died last January of breast cancer, once worked at the Minneapolis Tribune. So did I.

She arrived the summer of 1967. After she was booted out of her room at the downtown YMCA for having a forbidden cat, Molly stayed with me until she found her own apartment.

She’d come from Paris and taught me how to make café au lait. Soon every pot we had that could be used to warm milk was dirty. She was entertaining. Peppered her talk with “damn,” “honey,” “sumbitch” in that Texas twang of hers. I washed up the dirty pots while she told me stories about growing up in Texas with her tall, handsome, lawyer Dad and her well-read, Smith-educated Mom, her sister and brother. About going to Smith, then to Columbia University in New York City for her master’s in journalism. Then to Paris and the Sorbonne.

During the turbulent late ’60s, those of us covering meetings, sit-ins, war protests were in the heat of it, getting maced by police officers along with the protesters, sometimes getting struck by the rocks aimed at the police. Molly and other reporters were assigned to the streets to report what was happening.

My job, most days, was “rewrite.” I took dictation from those reporters, added some phone reporting and put the day’s story together. Then we’d head for our favorite bar, The Little Wagon, and talk about what else we should have done. One night, after a particularly grueling day, Molly leaned over to me and said, “You did a helluva job tonight.” “Oh, but I just put together all your good work,” I said. “Hoegy, don’t be so goddamn humble,” she replied.

In 1969, she and some other members of the Newspaper Guild signed a petition demanding that I be reinstated after the Tribune fired me when my son Stephan was born. I was. And, soon after, we had a maternity leave policy.

In 1970, Molly left for the Texas Observer after writing a magazine article headlined: “Working at the Minneapolis Tribune Is a Stone Wall Drag,” chastising us for our stodgy ways. She moved on to the New York Times in 1976, then to the Dallas Times Herald in 1982. It was there that she made her mark as a columnist, skewering the powerful and championing the underdog.

She was nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize, but often said that one of her proudest moments was when the Minneapolis police named its mascot pig “Molly.”

It was devastating last January to hear of her death, to know that her strong, sure voice, her view of right and wrong would be silenced. When Molly’s cancer was first diagnosed in 1999, she told her readers: “I have contracted an outstanding case of breast cancer, from which I fully intend to recover. I don’t need get-well cards, but I would like the beloved women readers to do something for me: Go. Get. The Damn. Mammogram. Done.”

Good advice. Do it. For yourself. For Molly.

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