Just As I Thought

Mary McGrory

I always loved Mary McGrory’s writing in the Washington Post, especially her clever ways of skewering pomposity and the billowing hot air from the right.
Mary died last night at 85, and her obituary in the Washington Post is a delight, just like her. After reading her columns for years, I’m now learning things about the writer herself. And she was just as I thought she’d be.

Born Aug. 22, 1918, in Boston, McGrory had 85 poetic and eventful years on a sometimes disappointing but often amusing Earth.

… Her career stretched from the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954, when the unknown McGrory jolted the capital with her charming but rapier daily reports, to the Iraq war of 2003, on which she wavered with characteristic candor before coming down squarely in opposition in some of her last columns before a stroke silenced her voice.

… Never is a long time, but it seems safe to say that Washington won’t soon see her like again. McGrory could command senators to sing old hymns for her lasagna; her lawn boys went on to senior positions in government and journalism; and through nearly 50 years of covering politics she managed, by flirtation and intimidation, always to avoid schlepping her own suitcase.

… “The star, Senator McCarthy, ploughs his high-shouldered way through the crowds amid small cheers. He is tanned and grinning,” she wrote in her first dispatch, published April 23, 1954. “Secretary of the Army Robert Stevens, by contrast with the Senator, looks about as dangerous as an Eagle Scout leading his first patrol.” McCarthy’s devious counsel, Roy Cohn, was “pale, wan and a trifle aggrieved,” she continued; “he looks like a boy who has had a letter sent home from school about him and come back with his elders to get things straightened out.”

… McGrory’s Pulitzer Prize was a question of when, not if. When it came, the timing was apt. With Watergate. Washington and the nation were once again riveted by Senate hearings, just as in 1954. Once again, McGrory’s was the definitive eye.

… McGrory followed the drama through its climax in Nixon’s August 1974 resignation, and for her work that year she received journalism’s highest honor. Her aversion to Nixon had not wavered after that wild 1962 news conference. McGrory lit into him straightaway once he reached the White House and never let up, and when the list of White House “enemies” compiled by Nixon aides became public in 1973, no one was surprised to see her name on it.

Membership on the list “was great,” McGrory later said. Columnist Art Buchwald complained that he, too, should have been on the list — “he’d written as much anti-Nixon stuff as I had,” McGrory recalled him saying. But he took her to the place of the moment, Sans Souci, to celebrate, and when they walked in, the diners rose in a standing ovation.

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