In Memory of Molly Ivins

February 9, 2007
Patrice Schexnayder
Austin Texas

Hello Nancy-

            I want to write a bit about Molly Ivins and her “constituents” who gathered Sunday to celebrate her life and her work. Lou Dubose gave us that title – constituents – and it includes all her community of readers.

            Lou co-authored ‘Shrub’ and ‘Bushwacked’ with Molly. He said “Molly didn’t have readers; she had constituents. She was a writer who led with her heart. She was such a sucker for the little guy; she stood up against injustice. Molly,” he stated, “was a powerful national force for good.”

            Molly was born August 30, 1944 and died January 31, 2007, after a long battle with breast cancer.

            All of her constituents that he was addressing at the church didn’t know each other. Some were lifelong friends, some colleagues, and some were family. Others came from activist communities, and there was overlap, but mostly hands, tears and laughter connected us all. Everybody didn’t work on the same issues, though most were about justice. We came from different spheres and phases of her life, but each person felt a profound loss, because Molly’s voice would no longer be the loudest voice demanding truth and justice. And the laughter . . . who would fill the void? Who could?

            A eulogist summed up Molly’s role by looking at issues and asking, “What Would Molly Do?” Sure puts a load of thinking on each of us, now that Molly’s writing won’t be giving us a head start. After the service there was a Wake at Scholz Garten, and women of the Austin peace movement sat at a table and made memorial arm bands out of duct tape, each inscribed “WWMD?” They went like hotcakes on a cold morning! I mean, everybody could figure out that if there came a need for duct tape to seal a lock or something small like that, the WWMD? arm band could do double duty. I know they became an instant coveted item in the name of homeland security.

            The Rev. Kathleen Jones presided at the “Service of Worship Celebrating the Life of Molly Ivins” that was held at the First United Methodist Church in Austin. It wasn’t even called a funeral at all. But the location of the church was ideal, being directly across the street from the Texas Capitol. It was almost like we were “standing guard,” what with the Lege in session. The reverend said when she talked with Molly at the hospital not long ago Molly noted that preachers should preach with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. I think she said Molly was quoting Karl Barth, and that may be so, but whoever originated it, was right, I think. Well, there needs to be a disclaimer on that: I don’t think that includes pack journalism or the propaganda that passes for much of news today. It is referent instead to the kind of writing Molly did, where truth counted. That’s real journalism!

            The state of contemporary journalism is a complex problem, and Kathleen Jones knows that. But she knows the Hebrew prophets too, and she said, “I believe Molly was a prophet. What the prophet Micah requires is that we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. That’s Micah 6:8 and that is Molly!” She added, “If the prophets had Molly’s sense of humor, they would have had a better following!” and everybody agreed. That was one of several things said that brought applause.

            But isn’t that so real? We’ve got religious institutions functioning like private clubs and handing out tickets to heaven, when they ought to be demanding justice for the downtrodden and speaking truth against oppression. Jesus got killed for doing that, but Molly wasn’t afraid to carry the torch and lead the way. And lead she did!

            Her brother Andy Ivins, who was younger than Molly, talked about how when they were kids Molly would walk so fast that it was hard to keep up. “Why do you walk so fast, Molly?” he asked her. “When you look up at the horizon, it makes you go quicker,” was her reply. “I really think she did that her whole life,” he concluded.

            Horizons seemed to carry Molly forward, and even now she is leading. Austin singer-songwriter Eliza Gilkyson said she was having trouble figuring out what she was going to sing during the service. She elaborated, saying of Molly, “I lost somebody who was out there, in front of me, leading.” She said Molly was out there in the trenches at the beginning of the Iraq War, when it was said that to be against the war, was to be unpatriotic. Eliza wondered what to sing, and she came across a song by Slaid Cleaves. “I came across it synchronistically the day before the service,” she noted. Saying she felt like it was a message from Molly, Eliza sang “For the Brave,” which has the refrain, “There will be better days, for the brave, there will be better days.”

            They say what goes around, comes around, and war is like that. There are bad times, then good times, then bad times, over and over again. Molly was born during WW2, began her writing career during the Vietnam War, and died during the Iraq War.

            Dave Richards, a friend since her Texas Observer days, told another story with a theme of horizons. It was a story about how Molly organized a rafting trip through the Santa Elena Canyon in the Big Bend that happened a few months ago. Looking forward to it gave her a horizon toward which to go. She was determined to make the trip, even though she was getting chemotherapy and was really sick. The day after a treatment, wobbly and unsteady as she walked, the group of friends began their eight day rafting trip, and Dave was really worried about her. But she never quit, and each day she grew stronger, he said.

             Molly was born in 1944 on the California coast. Her father had shipped out with the military, so her mom moved west to be close to the port into which he’d return. Her sister Sara Maley gave a lot of biographical details and said after the war the family moved back to Texas and Molly grew up in Houston, close enough to Galveston Bay to spend a lot of time with her brother and sister sailing out of the Houston Yacht Club. That time in Texas, which is also the time frame when I was growing up, was different from now. Texas was still industrializing, and city kids could grow up still knowing how to live in communion with nature. Molly liked the wind in the sails, and the freedom on the water. She also spent time in the East Texas forest, and on a ranch she and her brother had in the Hill Country. Living with the challenge of the wild provides cosmic insights that are learned experientially, I believe.

            Molly attended St. John’s School in Houston where her writing talent was acknowledged and nurtured. The curriculum must have offered a balance of scripture, tradition and reason, liberal enough for her to challenge the ideas she debated with her father, a Republican employed by Tenneco oil company.

            Molly called her higher power Fred, until just months before her death. Her longtime friend Courtney Anderson talked about Molly’s love for beer, noting that it didn’t hurt her writing. She was good, no matter how much she had had to drink. But Courtney said Molly came to the point where she had to quit drinking. I speculate it had to do with alcohol and chemo and her liver. She’d been sober nine months, Courtney said, and then one day Molly stated, “I’m not going to call God Fred, anymore.” With clarity, she elaborated, then said, “The coming in and the going out, is the same.” And that, her friend said, is Psalm 121. Courtney said when Molly died, she had been sober 18 months and two days.

            The worship service was eclectic! It began with gospel music by The Gospel Stars. Accompanying some songs there was clapping, and to others arms swayed. There were traditional prayers to the Eternal God. The Rev. Kathleen Jones gave her homily about justice in the scriptures and stated how like Molly the prophets were. The Lord’s Prayer was said in unison, and there was a Dismissal Blessing. Austin singer Marcia Ball playing the piano sang “Way Over Yonder” during the service, and then did two closing songs, “Honky Tonk Angels” and “Great Balls of Fire.” 

            Molly, it seems to me, took it all in through her whole life, and treasured what was wise and useful. She’d set it all out in stories that cast light on the subject at hand. She was able to make things clear and succinct, and she could scrape away all the mud that hid the truth.

            All the eulogists cast gems to Molly’s constituents. Here are some of the brightest:
            Margo (Marilyn) Schultz, her niece, said: “We all share a need for truth, and a desire for justice.”
            Sandy Speight, her friend, said Molly understood the difference between Yankees and Southerners: “Faux pas are worst than sins, in the South.”
            Linda Lewis, her friend, offered a quote from a column which instigated a two or three minute standing ovation for Molly: “Next time I tell you someone from Texas shouldn’t be elected president, LISTEN to me!”

            Molly’s last column was her Grande Finale. About the war which she had opposed from the beginning, she wrote: “We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we’re for them and trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets to protest Bush’s proposed surge. If you can, go to the peace march in Washington on Jan. 27. We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, ‘Stop it, now!’”

            As the throngs of people moved from the church to Scholz Garten, two things stood out. One was that several people said, “Molly would have liked the service just fine.”
            And the other thing was, at Scholz Garten there were people banging pots and pans on the sidewalk in front of the beer hall, railing against the war. “Make noise,” Molly had said.

            I promise you, Molly, we will. We will!

Peace, Patrice


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