Struggling with the Red Queen


Molly Ivins has long been a hero to me, but never more so than in the last six years as she fought the ultimate fight against the cancer that insisted on taking her life. Meanwhile, she had continued to speak and write, eloquently, against the depredations of politicians and big business hogs and fools in general in a voice that is big and loud and funny and brave, just like Molly herself.

The last time I saw Molly up close was in September at the funeral of another great Austin woman, Ann Richards. Molly was mourning the loss of her dear friend, but she put a wide smile on her face and took my arm and walked me across the reception room in the Erwin Center.

“Shrake, you should have been with us on the river. It was a hoot,” she said. “Even you would have liked it.”

Beneath the hat that covered her bald head, Molly’s face had an attractive flush that comes from outdoor action like canoe-paddling, never from typing. She looked strong and healthy. She had recently spent 10 days on the Colorado, camping out, coming down the canyons of the Grand Canyon with friends in canoes and rafts. I wondered if this could mean Molly had staved off the cancer once again.

“You have always amazed me,” I said. “Where did you find the strength to make this river trip?”

“I just love it. Loving it gives you strength,” she said.

Then came the familiar Molly laugh that keeps things in perspective.

I remember suddenly noticing, at Scholz Garten in the early ’70s, a tall young woman with glasses and a loud laugh and a voice and wit that were dominating a table of pretty good talkers. Then she left on the back of a motorcycle, and I asked, “Who the hell is that?” She was Molly, of course, having come to the Observer.

Over the years, as a devoted reader and fan, I followed Molly to each of the pulpits she established in print. I ran into her at parties and programs quite a lot and thought of her as an old friend. This Republic deeply needs Molly’s wisdom delivered by newspapers and the Internet in Molly’s own words. When they talk about speaking truth to power, it is Molly that they mean.

It took great courage to be Molly. The foes that she faced off against in the public print are as dangerous as cancer.

Thinking back now, I realized that it was only last July that I sat beside Molly for a while at a memorial for yet another great Austin woman, Phyllis Cartwright. Phyllis was suddenly dead of cancer, as Ann Richards soon would be. And here was Molly, nearly eight years into her struggle with the red queen.

As a cancer survivor myself, I understand the fear. Not that I would ask her about it at such a time, but we were both thinking the same thing. She turned to me and said, “I hope you’re working on a new book or something. We need to work. I’m always working.”

But it wasn’t the fear of fear that drove her to write and speak to the multitudes. She had great common sense, a social conscience and an obsession to point out to all of us the right thing to do. All the while she illustrated in her observations the gleam of the comic in human behavior. Humans may appear to be a hopeless cause in the long run, but Molly tried to save us.

There are few people about whom it can be said that they fought hard to make a real difference for the good in the world in their lifetime. Molly is one. Her life had a point.

Bud Shrake is a Texas writer and author.