Biography of Molly Ivins, Sharp-Tongued Political Commentator

She was known for her biting humor, which was often aimed at Texas

Molly Ivins laughing in 1986

John Pineda / Getty Images

Molly Ivins (Aug. 30, 1944–Jan. 31, 2007) was a political commentator with a sharp wit—a take-no-prisoners critic of what she considered silly, outrageous, or unfair. Ivins was based in Texas, and both loved and made fun of her state and its culture and politicians.

President George W. Bush, a frequent target of Ivins' writings, nevertheless praised her after she died, saying that he “respected her convictions, her passionate belief in the power of words, and her ability to turn a phrase.” Bush added: “Her quick wit and commitment to her beliefs will be missed.”

Fast Facts: Molly Ivins

Known For: Political commentator with biting wit

Also Known As: Mary Tyler Ivins

Born: Aug. 30, 1944, in Monterey, California

Parents:  James Elbert Ivins and Margaret Milne Ivins

Died: Jan. 31, 2007, in Austin, Texas,

Education: Smith College (BA in History, 1966), Columbia School of Journalism (MA, 1967)

Published Works: "" (1992), "" (2003), "" (2004)

Awards and Honors: Three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, 2005 Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Women's Media Foundation

Spouse: None

Children: None

Notable Quote: "There are two kinds of humor. One kind that makes us chuckle about our foibles and our shared humanity—like what Garrison Keillor does. The other kind holds people up to public contempt and ridicule—that's what I do. Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. I only aim at the powerful. When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel—it's vulgar."

Early Life

Ivins was born in Monterey, California. Most of her childhood was in Houston, Texas, where her father was a business executive in the oil and gas industry. She went north for her education, getting her bachelor's degree from Smith College, after a brief time at Scripps College, and then earned her master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. While at Smith, she interned at the Houston Chronicle.

Career

Ivin's first assignment was with the Minneapolis Tribune, where she covered the police beat, the first woman to do so. In the 1970s, she worked for the Texas Observer. She often published op-eds in the New York Times and the Washington PostThe New York Times, wanting a livelier columnist, hired her away from Texas in 1976. She served as the bureau chief for the Rocky Mountain states. Her style was, however, apparently was more lively than the Times expected, and she rebelled against what she saw as authoritarian control. 

She returned to Texas in the 1980s to write for the Dallas Times Herald, given freedom to write a column as she wished. She sparked controversy when she said of a local congressman, “If his I.Q. slips any lower, we’ll have to water him twice a day.” Many readers expressed outrage and said they were appalled, and several advertisers boycotted the paper.

Nevertheless, the paper rose to her defense and rented billboards that read: “Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?” The slogan became the title of the first of her six books.

Ivins was also a three-time finalist for the Pulitzer prize, and briefly served on the board of the Pulitzer Prize committee. When the Dallas Times Herald, closed, Ivins went to work for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Her twice-weekly column went into syndication and appeared in hundreds of papers.

Later Years and Death

Ivins was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999. She underwent a radical mastectomy and several rounds of chemotherapy. The cancer went into remission briefly, but it returned in 2003, and again in 2006.

Ivins waged a very public battle against cancer. In 2002, she wrote about the disease: “Having breast cancer is massive amounts of no fun. First they mutilate you; then they poison you; then they burn you. I have been on blind dates better than that.”

Ivins worked nearly up to the time of her death, but she suspended her column a few weeks before she passed away. Ivins died on Jan. 31, 2007, in Austin, Texas.

Legacy

At its height, Ivins column appeared in about 350 newspapers. Upon her death, The New York Times noted that "Ivins cultivated the voice of a folksy populist who derided those who she thought acted too big for their britches. She was rowdy and profane, but she could filet her opponents with droll precision."

After her death, Time magazine called Ivins a major figure in Texas journalism. In some respects, Ivins and President George W. Bush came to national prominence at the same time, but while "Bush came to embrace his political heritage, Molly veered from her own," Time noted in its obituary, adding: "Her family was Republican, but she was caught up in the turmoil of the '60s and became an ardent liberal, or 'populist' as Texas liberals like to call themselves."

One of the first newspapers Ivins worked for, the Texas Observer, had a simpler take on her legacy: "Molly was a hero. She was a mentor. She was a liberal. She was a patriot." And as recently as April 2018, journalists and writers were still mourning her passing and praising her influence. Columnist and author John Warner wrote in the Chicago Tribune that Ivins "work clarifies that the forces that roil our democracy are nothing new. She just saw things more clearly and sooner than many of us. I wish she were here, but I’m thankful her spirit lives on in her work."

Sources

  • Seelye, Katharine Q. “” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 Feb. 2007.
  • “” By Carey Kinsolving | Creators Syndicate.
  • Warner, John. “” Chicago Tribune, Chicago Tribune, 25 Apr. 2018.
  • Hylton, Hilary. “” Time, Time Inc., 31 Jan. 2007,.
  • PBS, "" Public Broadcasting Service.