Thursday, July 2, 2009

Family, friends and journalists gathered Wednesday to pay their final respects to Mary Lou Forbes, longtime commentary editor at The Washington Times, who died Saturday after a brief battle with cancer.

Mrs. Forbes, 83, got her start at The Washington Star as a 17-year-old copy girl and worked for more than six decades as a reporter, news chief and opinion editor. She guided hundreds of journalists - including future Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein and nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas. Her reporting on the Virginia civil rights struggle won her a Pulitzer Prize in 1959 and helped open doors for aspiring female journalists.

Mr. Bernstein, who worked as a copy boy and dictationist at The Star, said his first impression of Mrs. Forbes was the “glamorous woman at the other end of the desk.

“She was one of the boys, and yet she never forgot also that she was a woman,” Mr. Bernstein said. “And I don’t know if she was aware or not of this ‘trailblazing’ role that she had, but nobody could have done it better than she did.”

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Alexandria’s Old Town, where the funeral Mass was celebrated, represented a vital part of Mrs. Forbes’ life.

“Welcome to Mary Lou’s church - a holy place that she loved dearly, filled with her friends and family history,” said John McCaslin, a columnist for The Washington Times and host of the newspaper’s radio show, “America’s Morning News.” Mr. McCaslin, a parishioner at St. Mary’s, has known the Forbes family since his youth, during which he was a carrier boy for The Star.

The Rev. Dennis W. Kleinmann, pastor of St. Mary’s, and Mrs. Forbes’ son, Jim, spoke of her values - integrity, hard work, faithfulness and love, which shone through in her writing, editing and devotion to family, friends and church.

In the days since her death, numerous tributes to Mrs. Forbes poured in, including many from those who submitted columns to The Times while Mrs. Forbes’ was opinion editor.

Paul Driessen, a senior policy adviser for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and Congress of Racial Equality, said the remembrances were “in the finest tradition of an Irish wake.

“Friends and colleagues have noted the sadness of her passing but above all recalled the joy of her life, accomplishments, cheerful demeanor and positive influences on their lives,” he said.

Columnists expressed their gratitude for Mrs. Forbes’ willingness to publish writing from all points of view.

“She had the courage to challenge prevailing opinion by running columns written by knowledgeable economic, political, scientific and social dissidents to provoke readers into thinking about the consequences of existing policies and beliefs,” said Richard W. Rahn, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth.

Mr. Thomas offered a more personal tribute, remembering the support that she gave him.

“Next to my mother, Mary Lou Forbes was my biggest cheerleader,” he said. “She would call or e-mail about something I had written and praise it as if it were really that good.”

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