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Columnist Molly Ivins, 62; Poked Fun at the Powerful

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By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 1, 2007

Molly Ivins, 62, an unabashedly liberal columnist and best-selling author whose wicked wit and good ol' girl-style Texas humor regularly skewered conservative politicians and targeted the pomposities of elected officials regardless of political stripe, died Jan. 31 at her home in Austin of cancer.

More than 400 newspapers subscribed to her nationally syndicated column, which had its base in Texas but dealt more often than not with national issues, particularly after former Texas governor George W. Bush ascended to the White House. Her books included "Nothin' but Good Times Ahead" (1993), "You Got to Dance With Them What Brung You: Politics in the Clinton Years" (1998), "Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush" (2000), "Bushwhacked" (2003) and "Who Let the Dogs In?" (2004).

Six feet tall, with a mane of red hair when she was younger, Ms. Ivins was large even in a place that has known its share of outsize personalities. With an earthy laugh and the husky, drawling voice of a barroom bawd, she was usually the focal point of any gathering of folks who enjoyed telling tales and trading political gossip.

During her days as editor of the Texas Observer, the feisty fortnightly voice of long-suffering Texas liberals, a favorite place was out back at Austin's legendary Scholzgarten, where pitchers of cold beer helped lubricate the conversation. She loved the game of politics and the yeasty mix of egos, enthusiasms and downright weirdness she was sure to encounter, even when she was dismayed by the outcome.

Hobnobbing with politicos, she may have missed deadlines while her no-nonsense Observer co-editor, Kaye Northcott, was trying to get the political biweekly put to bed, but she would invariably come back with great stories. In later years, when the Observer nearly succumbed to its perennially precarious financial situation and Ms. Ivins was making a bit more than the $12,000-annual salary the publication paid her, she helped put it on sound financial footing.

In the 1980s, an old friend of Ms. Ivins's, political humorist John Henry Faulk, did a standup comedy bit built around the notion that there would come a time in Texas when Republicans would be so scarce that the remaining few would be kept in a special preserve, perhaps in a park where people could drive through and observe them as an endangered species.

Faulk was a better storyteller than prognosticator, but for Ms. Ivins, the columnist, the total triumph of conservative Republicanism in Texas -- not to mention Republican ascendancy in Washington -- was a fortuitous development. She was funnier, more caustic, when her old friend Ann Richards was no longer Texas governor. Her humor, and her outrage, had more bite when she had Bush to kick around rather than Bill Clinton.

Ms. Ivins warned her readers that Bush in the White House would "Texanise" the nation, a prospect she found dismaying. She loved Texas, but that did not blind her to what she considered its maddening provincialism and its hideous shortcomings.

"I only aim at the powerful," she once wrote. "When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel -- it's vulgar."

Mary Tyler "Molly" Ivins was born Aug. 30, 1944, in Monterey, Calif., while her father was serving as a Navy officer in the Pacific. He was a Houston corporate lawyer in civilian life, and the family moved back there when he was discharged.

Both her parents were Republicans, but she rebelled early. Her liberal bent sprang from the same root that nurtures most Southern liberals: race. "Once you figure out they are lying to you about race, you start to question everything," she wrote.

Ms. Ivins, a voracious reader from an early age, graduated in 1966 from Smith College, the alma mater of her mother and grandmother. She also attended the Institute for Political Science in Paris.


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