Whatever you thought of her politics – or, perhaps more accurately put, whatever you thought of what she thought of politics – you had to appreciate the truly unique voice that was Molly Ivins. Not since Will Rogers or Mark Twain has an American writer or political observer offered such wry and poignant observation (and often rebuke) of our politicians and political system.
That voice was one of the things I admired so much about Molly when I was in journalism school. It wasn't long after I first started reading her columns that I had the chance to meet her. Molly was in Michigan speaking at a local university, and I was working for the local paper at my very first job out of school. My managing editor had taken the opportunity to set up an informal get-together with Molly and our staff at the local bar -- a regular haunt of many of the paper's reporters and editors.
I couldn't have been happier. At that point in my career, it felt like the equivalent of being invited into a smoky back room in Washington where political wheeling and dealing was taking place. Molly seemed right at home – she loved a cold drink, and even more so, an audience.
One story I remember in particular was about her move to New York to attend Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, about how she had a dog named -- in the crudest possible manner -- after fecal material, how the dog got away as she was moving into her new apartment, and how she ran through the streets of Manhattan chasing after the dog and screaming its name – while mothers covered their children's ears and random strangers wondered who was the crazy girl with the funny accent and Tourette's syndrome who'd just moved into the neighborhood.
I didn't see Molly again until I moved back to Austin, Texas, several years later. By this point, she'd already been through chemo for her first bout with breast cancer, but that didn't stop a tradition she'd started years before – Final Fridays. These were regular get-togethers at Molly's house, more salon than party, where heated political debates were no more common than poetry readings or musical jam sessions.
Of course, Molly seemed her stout and boisterous self even though her wavy, salt-and-pepper hair was now just a cap of short, silvery ringlets. I couldn't help but note the uncanny resemblance she now had to her newer canine companion -- the more genteelly named standard poodle, Athena.
While she wrote occasionally about her cancer, it was never a topic of conversation for Final Friday. It simply wasn't something she wanted to talk about. Final Friday was for remembering what was good and interesting and smart and fun.
I moved away from Austin a few years later and, on a return visit in 2003, I asked a friend if Final Friday was still taking place. Of course it was. When I arrived that night, the walkway up to the house was dark, but the porch light was on. Attached to the door was a note. Final Fridays had been canceled indefinitely. I didn't know at that point that the cancer had returned for the third time.
Last September, Molly was quoted as saying "I'm sorry to say (cancer) can kill you, but it doesn't make you a better person." Well, that's probably true. Cancer probably doesn't make people better at being people, but somehow, it always seems to end up taking the very best ones.