- The Washington Times - Monday, June 29, 2009

OPINION/ANALYSIS:

Before there was Fox News, before there was the Internet, before there was talk radio, before there was a wide range of opinion magazines, there was only a barren wasteland of tired, tedious columnists and Op-Ed pages, all repeating the same dreary line of conventional (liberal) wisdom. That was even before the liberals, having ruined one perfectly good word, started calling themselves “progressives.”

And then along came Mary Lou Forbes.

Ludy invented commentary pages, both in The Washington Times and in Washington, encouraging bold, fresh voices with something new to say: Warren Brookes, Pat Buchanan, Suzanne Fields, Bob Tyrrell, Mona Charen, Mark Steyn. Soon her pages were among the prized patches of real estate in town, with pundits, politicians and double-domes from the academy and the think tanks lobbying for a place in her commentary patch. She was usually ahead of everyone else spotting clouds no bigger than a man’s hand. Many a thunderstorm that washed away Washington pretense and politically correct cant grew from Ludy’s pages.

Ludy was one of the kindest and most thoughtful editors I’ve ever known, man, woman or boy, but she could be an intimidating and even frightening presence for the unwary. She could project the fierce authority of the city editor, now mostly lost to antiquity, who could wither an overgrown ego in the flash of a skeptical glance. The occasional shrieks of delight, outrage and laughter coming from her office on the mezzanine sometimes threatened to shatter the glass wall of the newsroom overlooking the National Arboretum.

Ludy at work was a study in concentration, and I learned early on to be wary of disturbing her. When I walked over to her office, next door to the editor-in-chief’s office, I was careful to make ample advance warning noise, drumming with my fingertips on her window, humming a line or two of a song, or even, at the end of the day, throwing my battered fedora into her office ahead of me.

Otherwise, a simple hello would usually bring Ludy out of her concentration and her chair with a start and a shriek.

We’ll miss Ludy Forbes. Washington always needs a wake-up shriek.

• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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