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Joe Cutbirth Headshot

R.I.P Sweet Pea

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A strange act of providence struck the other day when a white envelope came in the mail. Inside was a magazine I've read for years - a special tribute edition - dedicated to a friend I still can't believe is gone.

It was a toney version of the venerable Texas Observer with a timeless photo of Molly Ivins, my old colleague at The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. Her head was cocked and she was smiling with that disarming face that launched the phrase "Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?"

The timing was celestial. Molly's classmates at Columbia Journalism School got together Saturday to remember her in the tradition she loved: story telling with some fine drink to loosen the screws. The hostess was Jonnet Abeles, a dear friend who lives a few blocks up Central Park West, and she asked me to swing by, too.

I did. And as Molly would say, it was a ring-tail tooter.

The timeless video essay Molly did back in the 80s for The News Hour on "Texas art" (ERT, as Molly pronounced it) launched an evening of stories and other works of hers easily downloaded from the Web.

It was magical to see Molly again, taking us all on a tour of rural Texas:

Now, we are in Paris, Texas. Just like Paris, France, this Paris is
famous for art. Here, for example, is a statue of a Brahma bull on
the roof of the Fina Filling Station. This is a fine example of a genre
of Texas art: the cow-on-building genre. I don't know why we like
to put cows on the roof, but I kind of like it.

Jack Cox, who attended the funeral service and life celebration afterward at Scholz Beer Garten, said that soon after the free beer was tapped, arm bands made from silver masking tape bearing the letters "WWMD" began appearing. A lively debate followed over whether the letters stood for "What Would Molly Do?" Or "What Weapons of Mass Destruction?" Everyone was able to agree that Molly would be delighted with the symmetry.

Edward Omotoso, a Nigerian classmate with an infectious smile and talent for story telling, told how Molly insisted he stay at her home (technically her parents' home) when he visited Texas on a tour of the United States after graduation.

The Ivinses lived in the most exclusive neighborhood in Houston at a time when many parts of the South still were segregated. Molly's classmates roared as he described the back-and-forth negotiation with Molly. "Are you SURE your parents won't mind?" he kept asking. To which an equally persistent Molly kept responding "You just come along" or something to that effect.

Molly's humor - her way of dealing with all the injustice she saw in the world - was marked by two cardinal rules. She never aimed her wit at anyone who had less than she did or who was more vulnerable than she was. And there was always a base of truth in what she said.

The one possible exception I remember - only because it's hard to imagine how anyone can have less when their life is consumed with hate and violence - was the time she and a small group of friends took on the Ku Klux Klan.

The "Kluckers" as Molly called them announced back in '93 that they would rally at the state capital. News of the impending embarrassment brought the predictable outrage and calls to ban them from public property. Molly, however, stayed true to her civil libertarian soul and her unshakable belief in the First Amendment.

She didn't waste time or elevate them by responding in her column. Instead, she told me if I wanted a good story to come to work on Saturday and be at a particular spot when the riot-proof buses and police escort that taxpayers routinely provide the buffoons rolled by. Tip taken, I called the news desk in Ft. Worth and told them not to use the wire story. I would cover the event.

I met Molly's group at the appropriate place, and learned off-the-record that they met for a breakfast "strategy session" at some beer joint in South Austin and "got started a little early" as we say. The air was tense and everyone was in rare form as the buses arrived.

At just the right moment, as the buses rolled onto the grounds of our great granite capitol, Molly and her group answered the Klan's free expression with some free expression of their own. In unison, they turned their backs, dropped their trousers, hiked up their skirts and showed the Kluckers a good old group of Texas Moons. Later, in an essay about the event for Mother Jones she wrote, "the fun's in the fight."

I loved her to death. And I miss her dearly.