NSNC Couldn’t Honor Molly Ivins, Could It?

Lifetime Achievers

This is the second in a series of articles about recipients of the NSNC’s Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award.

By Dave Astor
National Society of Newspaper Columnists

Dave Astor

Dave Astor

During her illustrious career, Molly Ivins won the admiration of countless readers, prizes such as the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ 1994 Lifetime Achievement Award, and even an NSNC hospitality-suite bet that will be described at the end of this piece by our colleague Bill Tammeus.

One reason for all that success? Research!

“I read lots and lots and lots and lots and then read some more,” said Ivins (just 49 at the time) during her acceptance speech at the NSNC’s ’94 conference near Sarasota, Fla.

Molly Ivins

Molly Ivins
Credit Center for American History, University of Texas

In addition to being well researched, Ivins’ populist political columns were provocative and often hilarious. When inscribing a book to then-future NSNC President Mike Leonard at the ’94 gathering, Ivins wrote: “Raise more hell — and keep laughing, too.”

The liberal Ivins (1944-2007) was mostly associated with the conservative state of Texas, but didn’t spend her whole life there. The California native was raised in Houston before attending Smith College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, and went on to become a reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune, the Texas Observer and The New York Times — where her lively writing style bothered staid NYT editors.

Ivins became a columnist at the now-defunct Dallas Times Herald then joined the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, from where her feature was distributed to several hundred other newspapers by Creators Syndicate.

Meanwhile, she authored or coauthored nearly a dozen books, many sporting colorful titles like Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?

I covered the ’94 NSNC conference for Editor & Publisher magazine, but didn’t set foot in the hospitality suite for objective-reporter reasons. So I asked Bill Tammeus — our president at the time — for his in-suite Ivins memories. Here they are:

“After the awards dinner that night, a bunch of us, including Molly, retired to the hospitality suite and discovered that the O.J. Simpson Slow Bronco Chase, as it came to be known, was happening on TV.

“Being jaded journalists, we naturally got up a betting pool — not on whether O.J. would survive the ordeal. We’re not that ghoulish. Rather, we placed bets on what time it would end. Everyone who wanted to play threw a dollar in the pile.

“I don’t know how the hell she did it, but Molly guessed the end of the chase within three minutes of the truth and pocketed all our dough. When I say ‘all our dough,’ I mean there must have been upwards of $15 in the pile.

“I didn’t begrudge her the win, but I did mutter under my breath, ‘Damn, she’s good.'”

Dave here again: Yes, Ivins was good. Damned good.

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Dave Astor writes the “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair (N.J.) Times, blogs at DaveAstorOnLiterature.com, and is the author of the memoir Comic (and Column) Confessional.

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This piece first was published in the December 2015 issue of The Columnist, the monthly membership newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

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