Goodbye, Mary Lou: Tribute to a great journalist and editor

CEI President Fred Smith yesterday expressed all of our condolences on the death of Washington Times Commentary editor and veteran Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Mary Lou Forbes.

I was a colleague of Mary Lou’s when I worked at the Washington Times’ magazine Insight. She could always tell a great remembrance of her 50 years in Washington journalism. She mentored Carl Bernstein and others at the now-defunct Washington Star. In a future post, I will relate her explanation about how FCC rules banning the ownership of a newspaper and TV station in the same city — aimed at prventing monopolies — actually  killed the Star by denying the newspaper the TV station’s revenue — making Washington a one-newspaper town until the Times came along.

It was after I came to CEI in 2004, however, that I got to work with her as an editor when I submitted op-eds to the Times. She was the best kind of editor a very light touch. You wouldn’t even notice her changes, unless you compared what ran in the paper to your original copy, and notice how much better her “little” changes made you sound.

There is one particular anecdote that illustrate her incredible stamina even in her 80s (She was 83). A couple of years ago she and I and others were at a party on American Sentinel newsletter editor Lee Bellinger’s yacht/houseboat known as the “Off the Record.” To get to the upper deck — the very roof of the boat — you needed to climb this set of stairs that was more like a ladder. Almost 50 years younger, I even had trouble navigating those stairs. But MaryLou — grabing someone’s hands — insisted climbing up.

Anyway, here is Fred’s statement on behalf of CEI.

Washington, D.C., June 29, 2009— Lou
Statement by CEI President Fred L. Smith, Jr. on the Passing of Mary Lou Forbes
The Competitive Enterprise Institute mourns the passing this week of Mary Lou Forbes, a distinguished journalist with a career that spanned over 50 years.  Throughout, she possessed the key qualities of perceptiveness and curiosity. In 1959, she became one of the first female reporters to garner a Pulitzer Prize, for her coverage of desegregation for the Washington Star.
In the 1980s, she created the multi-page Commentary section of the Washington Times, which she continued editing up until her passing.  She opened the Washington media to voices of free-market economics and sound science and, in fact, was one of the first to publish the iconoclastic writings of my friend, Warren T. Brookes.  After his death, Mary Lou helped us establish the Warren T. Brookes Journalism Fellowship at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.   In the years that followed, she was invaluable to CEI in reviewing and publishing many an opinion article from CEI scholars.  She was also a frequent guest and sometime-integral presenter at CEI’s annual dinners.  Indeed, she just attended our 25th Silver Anniversary dinner on June 11 this year.  She will be sorely missed as a vital voice in the free market of ideas, and her helpful guidance to news writers and policy scholars will always be remembered.  Washington has lost a fine journalist and a great lady.