- The Washington Times - Monday, June 29, 2009

Longtime Washington Times’ Commentary Editor Mary Lou Forbes, a trailblazing journalist whose reporting on Virginia’s civil rights struggles won a Pulitzer Prize in 1959 and whose editorial leadership helped pave the way for women to rise in a once-male dominated profession, has died after a brief battle with cancer. She was 83.

Mrs. Forbes’ career spanned more than six decades as a reporter, news chief and opinion editor, guiding hundreds of journalists from future Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein to nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, whose column debuted in The Times 25 years ago under her tutelage.

“The real thing about her was her imperturbable manner and her constant good nature. She could edit a story so fast and so deftly and a few minutes later your story would be better,” recalled Mr. Bernstein, who got his start in journalism as a copy boy at The Washington Evening Star before he made history by exposing the Watergate scandal with Bob Woodward.

“I was chief dictationist then, and I sat literally five feet from her, so we had a kind of ongoing dialogue - a teenage boy and this fabulous, beautiful, brilliant, consummate professional who was the first person I ever knew who won a Pulitzer Prize,” Mr. Bernstein said Sunday.

Mrs. Forbes died late Saturday at Inova Hospital in Alexandria, less than two weeks after collapsing and being diagnosed with cancer. She worked at The Times right up until she was stricken with the fatal cancer, in recent months helping to reshape the newspaper’s famed Commentary section during a recent update of the publication’s opinion pages.

“Mary Lou was a journalistic giant, whose courage not only won her journalism’s highest prize, but paved the way for the thousands of women who followed her into the profession,” said John Solomon, executive editor of The Times. “For those of us who were blessed to work with her, we know another side of her: Her warmth, friendliness and mentoring spirit turned our newsroom into a home and every one of her colleagues into family members. We will sorely miss her.”

Mrs. Forbes, who took over editorship of the Commentary page two years after the founding of The Times in 1982, was an influential figure in Washington journalism.

“She established the signature pages of leading opinion writers in The Washington Times’ Commentary section as a pillar of American thought leadership for the past quarter century,” Times President Thomas P. McDevitt said. “Mary Lou set a very high bar for all of us as a writer, editor and colleague who blazed important pathways as a woman with a powerful intellect, grit, grace and humor. We will miss her dearly.”

Richard Miniter, editor of The Times’ editorial page, called Mrs. Forbes’ death “the end of an epoch in America journalism.”

“She created the nation’s first multipage commentary section, challenging the liberal establishment to confront ideas that, thanks to her, it could no longer ignore … her BS detector was always set on high - which is the best thing any journalist can say [about] another. I miss her already.”

Mrs. Forbes, known to her friends as “Ludy,” published a veritable Who’s Who of conservative columnists and other writers, including government leaders and think-tank experts who spanned a wide range of policymaking and political thought.

“I’m sort of a hawkish Democrat, but I was comfortable writing for The Washington Times and Mary Lou because she cared more about the ideas than about the ideology,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a defense- and foreign-policy analyst at the Brookings Institution. “She found a way to encourage you and make you feel your work was important. She had very high standards, exuded an interest in public policy and liked provocative essays.”

Mr. Thomas called her “an encyclopedia of knowledge for the era she lived.”

“She was an excellent friend and a great journalist - and was an overcomer of discrimination in an era when women were expected to stay in their place,” he said.

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