Thursday, February 01, 2007

Texas liberal political wit Molly Ivins dies of cancer

Texas liberal political wit Ivins dies of cancer
By Bruce Nichols

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Molly Ivins, the best-selling author and columnist who aimed her razor-sharp barbs at politicians and dubbed President George W. Bush "Shrub," died on Wednesday. She was 62.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999, Ivins had been undergoing her third series of treatments when she died at home.

Ivins was one of the most prominent critics of Bush in print -- her columns ran in 400 newspapers twice weekly -- and on the speaking circuit.

"She was sort of a modern Mark Twain," said Jake Bernstein, editor of the liberal journal Texas Observer.

Ivins, a three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, tempered her strong liberal views with humor.

"I never saw her angry, 'kicking the dog' angry," said longtime friend and writer Kaye Northcott. "She could always find something funny and that was her salvation. She stayed optimistic."

Her newspaper columns and essays were turned into four books, and she co-authored two others about Bush, whom she knew from the time they were both teenagers in Houston.

"Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush" was published in 2000. "Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America" in 2003.

Bush and first lady Laura Bush extended their condolences to Ivins' family and friends.

"Molly Ivins was a Texas original. ... I respected her convictions, her passionate belief in the power of words and her ability to turn a phrase. She fought her illness with that same passion. Her quick wit and commitment to her beliefs will be missed," the president said in a statement.

Born in California, Ivins moved with her family to Houston as a child and grew up in a wealthy neighborhood, although she rejected her high-toned Republican upbringing.

Ivins graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts, earned a master's degree in journalism at Columbia University in New York and studied politics in Paris.

She started her journalism career in the complaint department at the Houston Chronicle, worked as a police reporter at the Minneapolis Tribune in Minnesota and was Denver bureau chief for The New York Times.

But her voice as a writer and speaker was Texan, a physically imposing, salty-tongued but genteel Southerner who could punctuate her sharpest jabs with a sudden smile.

"She always had a love affair with Texas," Bernstein said.

Ivins co-edited the Texas Observer with Northcott from 1970 to 1976, winning the job with a witty letter that complained that Minnesota was short on scandals.

She attained fame at The Dallas Times-Herald and, when that paper folded, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. But she hit her stride at the Observer, a cheeky, muckraking periodical.

"That's when she ... developed her voice," Bernstein said. "We like to joke Texas is the strangest state and Molly really channeled that."