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A Tribute to Molly Ivins

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I first met Molly Ivins in 1965. I was 25, fresh out of the University of Texas at Austin, a cub reporter at the Houston Chronicle with a wife and two daughters. Molly was a 20-year-old intern, back at home in Houston from college for the summer. By good fortune, as a new reporter starting in the summer, I was included in the Tuesday morning meetings of the interns. I got to know and become friends with several of them, including Molly and Carlton Carl. Though still developing and growing as a writer and observer of life, Molly was a large and powerful presence even then.

Also that summer, I was tagged with the nickname “Moose” by a wizened old reporter, Zarko Franks. Molly, Carlton, Joe Longley, and a number of other early friends call me Moose to this day.

Fast-forward to 1970. Molly, after getting a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University and serving a stint as a reporter in Minnesota, had become the co-editor of The Texas Observer with Kaye Northcott. It was a propitious time to be covering Texas politics, with the Sharpstown stock-fraud and banking scandal-revelations of sweetheart deals to help pave the way for self-serving legislation-about to blow apart Texas state government.

I was in Dallas by then, working for the Dallas Morning News. Molly was occasionally in Dallas, and given the Observer’s shoestring budget, she often bunked at our house with my first wife Saundra and me. In the process, she became a close Dutch aunt to our daughters, Michelle and Candace, when they were still in early grade school.

As a reporter covering politics in Dallas, and with many friends in Austin, I also spent a considerable amount of time there in the early 1970s. One of my frequent stops was to see Molly and the Observer crowd. At that time, they were housed in an old two-story house at the corner of West Seventh and Nueces streets that Dave and Ann Richards had purchased to house Dave’s law firm. They also graciously made space for the Observer and the Texas Civil Liberties Union.

Sometimes in the afternoons when I was in town, I’d call over to the Observer to see what was going on.

“Come on over,” Molly would often say. Usually, she’d add, “You might bring along a six-pack of Bud.”

So I would, and we’d hang out on the Observer’s great second-story porch, look south toward Town Lake, and exchange political and personal stories. And, of course, drink beer.

Before Molly joined The New York Times in 1976, she once hosted a slumber party for my daughter Michelle, an event both Michelle and Molly talked about from then on. When I was going through the beginnings of a divorce in the late 1970s, Molly invited my daughter Candace to spend several days with her in Denver, where she was the chief of the Times’ Rocky Mountain bureau (it had one member).

In 1978, shortly before Molly moved back to Dallas to write a column for the Dallas Times-Herald in the early 1980s, I had moved to Austin to work for the Austin American-Statesman. Molly was as horrified as many of my other friends when my first wife Saundra and I were divorcing. But Molly hung tough as a friend.

She also developed a great respect and love for Carole Kneeland, whom Molly had known in Houston, and who became my next wife. Molly helped lead the singing and dancing when Carole and I were married in our backyard in 1982. Molly moved back to Austin sometime in the 1980s, to continue her column from there. After the Times-Herald folded in late 1991, Molly moved to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Over more than four decades, Molly and my evolving family shared many things, such as canoeing and camping trips with our friends and families. One particular highlight was the annual late-winter campout on Bob Armstrong’s ranch near Liberty Hill, northwest of Austin. Campfires, music, lots of food and drink and camaraderie, and sometimes rain, cold, and mud. It became in many ways an extended family reunion-a time when, almost in a religious way, we recommitted ourselves to each other.

Molly also stepped forward to provide her home as a site for the Final Friday monthly celebration by Austin’s progressive community that had been started by Virginia and Sam Whitten, and carried on by Kate and Ty Fain when the Whittens aged out of being hosts. When the Fains announced they were moving to the West Texas town of Marathon, Molly picked up the ball. She continued it even after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Final Friday survived for several years, with its potluck and music and poetry-often emceed by Molly-and, of course, adult beverages-until the combination of her cancer, and the fact that people were showing up to drink and carouse whom Molly and most other of the attendees did not know, led her to call a halt.

Molly was among the wonderful group of women who shared a book club with Carole-which was often more swapping stories about loves, letdowns, lusts, and life than literature. When Carole’s cancer got worse, that group was incredibly present to help with care, telephone duty, food, and other support during the weeks that Carole convalesced before she died.

Several friends said they learned a lot from going through Carole’s death with us. It was experience put to use when Molly’s own cancer worsened.

Molly later wrote that perhaps the most important advice she received came from me: Don’t do this alone. Let your friends help you. It gives them a way to show their love, and it helps you get done the things you need to.

When Carole died in 1998, Molly was at her funeral. Five years after Carole’s death, when I married my neighbor, and my and Carole’s longtime friend, Kathryn Terwey Longley, who also endured breast cancer, Molly was there.

Molly has always been there for me, and for so many others-hundreds or probably thousands she has known as personal friends, and many more who have simply enjoyed her wonderful talents as an iconoclastic writer and speaker, and an incredibly humorous watchdog of political behavior.

Losing Molly is losing a part of my life. But as I know with all her friends, her spirit will remain alive with us, and lift us, forever.

Dave McNeely, former columnist for the Austin American-Statesman, writes a weekly political column for more than two dozen newspapers.