By: Dave Astor
Molly Ivins, when inscribing one of her books to columnist Mike Leonard in 1994, wrote: “Raise more hell — and keep laughing, too.”
That not only summed up Ivins’ philosophy but could be the “marching orders” for many opinion writers, said Leonard, a former president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC) — which gave Ivins its Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994.
“She had the courage to say what she felt,” said Leonard, a columnist for The Herald-Times of Bloomington, Ind.
“Even though she was so witty and cutting, she was also very funny,” added Austin (Texas) American-Statesman editorial cartoonist Ben Sargent, a good friend of Ivins’ who first met her when he was a young capital reporter in Texas around 1970. “And underneath everything was her deep belief in the possibilities of human nature.”
The Texas-based Ivins, whose column was distributed by Creators Syndicate, died yesterday of breast cancer at the age of 62.
Another former NSNC president — Mary Ann Lindley, editorial page editor and columnist for the Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat — said Ivins’ “light, off-the-cuff tone was really grounded in history, politics, and biography. “I was at her home for a party in Austin once. There were bookshelves lining the hallway, bookshelves lining the bathroom, and bookshelves lining the kitchen — and they weren’t cookbooks!”
Indeed, when Ivins accepted the NSNC lifetime honor in 1994 (at the ripe old age of 49) she stressed that columnists should always read in addition to report and opine. “I read lots and lots and lots and lots and then read some more,” she told attendees.
Ivins’ research, writing, and wit helped make her a widely syndicated columnist, but Leonard noted that there were still many Americans “who weren’t aware of her and her talent.”
Why? “She did what a lot of columnists should be doing — often writing about local and regional issues,” Leonard said of Ivins’ Texas-themed pieces. “Also, she wasn’t one of those ‘Sunday-morning gasbags,’ as Calvin Trillin calls them, appearing on TV. And she was so fiery and and so courageous that she was a little too hot for some people to handle.”
Being with Ivins, added Sargent, “was like walking into a hurricane. She was a force of nature. She was always turned on, always funny, always outraged about something, always full of life and energy.”
Sargent, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist distributed by Universal Press Syndicate, also said Ivins was an example to him and others in his profession. “She did in prose the sort of things we try to do in editorial cartoons,” he observed. “We try to turn things on their heads, look at things in a new way, shed some light on subjects, and provoke some outrage.”
Lindley, whose paper ran Ivins’ column, said the late writer was “big-hearted and generous” with other journalists. She recalled that Ivins wrote a column at the Democrat office during the late-2000 presidential election dispute, and was “really helpful to the young reporters in the newsroom.”
The Democrat editorial page editor added that Ivins was a great “storyteller.” And Leonard said he loved Ivins’ “Texas expressions and candor.”
Leonard concluded: “We lost one of the greats. It’s a big loss for our profession and for columnists in particular.”