With Molly Ivins gone, is this the end of the liberal voice in Texas? Surely not. But it will be hard to find anybody to equal her.
There were years when I got to read Molly before most people because I was her editor at the Dallas Times Herald. We had a subtle, unspoken game going between us owing to the fact that I had been told quite firmly that the Times Herald was a family newspaper and there was to be no bad language. Molly would drop in a vivid word or two. I would take them out. She would let a day or two go by, then send along another, just to see if I was paying attention. That too would be cut. Was I exasperated? Not at all. I loved the laughs and regretted not passing them along to our readers.
They adored Molly. Whenever she went on vacation and wasn’t in the paper for a couple of weeks, the phone would ring wildly with people shrieking on the other end, “What have you done with Molly? You haven’t fired her, have you?” They were convinced that conservative Dallas never could be trusted, even at the very moderate Times Herald.
Molly was famous for her wicked humor, of course. She once wrote of me in the Texas Observer that I was “frighteningly chipper,” and, at that crazy moment, she was right. I was a little afraid of Molly then, fearful of what someone as deeply witty as she was could do. Later, when we worked together, I came to like her immensely and admire her as a person as well as a writer.
I was struck by the effort she made for a nephew on whom she doted. Before her big success, as what she called a “famous arthor,” while still living on a newspaper salary as far as I could tell, she helped send him to Yale. And for all the funny columns she gave us, my favorite piece she ever wrote was heartbreakingly serious.
It was about a young man with whom she was in love who was killed in Vietnam. She wrote it in the third person, as a short story. You can find it in her book, Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She? While I am not absolutely certain she was writing about herself, I still believe she was.
The next to last paragraph goes like this: “She turned again at the top of the slope to make sure where his name is, so whenever she sees a picture of the memorial she can put her finger where his name is. He never said goodbye, literally. Whenever he left he would say, ‘Take care, love.’ He could say it many different ways. He said it when he left for Vietnam. She stood at the top of the slope and found her hand half raised in some silly gesture of farewell. She brought it down again. She considered thinking to him, ‘Hey, take care, love,’ but it seemed remarkably inappropriate. She walked away and was quite entertaining for the rest of the day, because it was expected of her.”
We did expect it of her, all of us, and she never disappointed. I look by chance at her inscription in my copy of her book: She closes with “Hell, Lee, at least it was a good effort. Keep fightin’ for freedom, and keep laughin’ too. With great affection, Molly Ivins.