By BEN R. WILLIAMS
Hi folks, this is Ben Williams of the Henry County Enterprise. Editor Debbie Hall asked me if I would tackle the Mountain Top Party Line this week.
I am incredibly sorry to report my reason for doing so: Ivalien Reynolds, the long-time author of the Party Line, passed away on Oct. 31.
I never met Mrs. Reynolds in person, but I considered her a friend. She spoke very glowingly of my columns and I was certainly a big fan of her work.
For decades, the Mountain Top Party Line has been your one-stop shop for interesting tidbits about the goings-on in Patrick County, everything from upcoming events, to prayer requests, to little observations designed to put a smile on your face.
This is important work. And to show why it’s important work, I would like to share one of my favorite stories.
In 2012, an 88-year-old newspaper columnist named Marilyn Hagerty made headlines. Hagerty has been writing for the Grand Forks Herald newspaper of Grand Forks, North Dakota since 1957 — and she’s still writing today.
In March of 2012, Hagerty wrote a glowing review of Grand Forks’ brand-new Olive Garden for her “Eatbeat” column. The earnest column praised the chain restaurant’s chicken alfredo and delicious breadsticks, concluding that the new Olive Garden was “the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks.”
That column, one of five that Mrs. Hagerty wrote per week, caught the internet’s imagination and went viral. It became the single most viewed article on the Grand Forks Herald’s website by a factor of ten. The reason was simple: to anyone living in a large city — or even in fairly close proximity to one — the review was pretty funny. Most food critics write about the molecular gastronomy offerings at a five-star restaurant with four tables and reservations booked a decade in advance, not the local Olive Garden. With her honest review, Marilyn Hagerty had written what might be the most widely-read restaurant review in human history.
Unfortunately, the internet is not a kind place, not even to a sweet little old lady. A great deal of snark was directed her way, and Mrs. Hagerty found it upsetting to have complete strangers making fun of her. Who could blame her?
But then, someone stepped up to the plate to defend her, and it was one of the last people you might expect:
The late, great Anthony Bourdain.
Yes, Anthony Bourdain, one of the finest celebrity chefs to ever grace our television sets, a man who traveled the world eating unusual cuisine, a man who had more hilariously filthy stories than Redd Foxx’s private journal. When no one else would, Anthony Bourdain defended Mrs. Hagerty’s review of Olive Garden.
“Marilyn Hagerty’s years of reviews (are) a history of dining in America too few of us from the coasts have seen,” Bourdain tweeted. “We need to see.”
While visiting New York, Hagerty met Bourdain for a cup of coffee. And not long after that, Mrs. Hagerty published her first book: “Grand Forks: A History of American Dining in 128 Reviews.”
Anthony Bourdain edited the book, and he also wrote the foreword.
“She is never mean — even when circumstances would clearly excuse a sharp elbow, a cruel remark,” Bourdain wrote. “She is, unfailingly, a good neighbor and good citizen first — and entertainer second. … This is a straightforward account of what people have been eating — still ARE eating — in much of America. As related by a kind, good-hearted reporter looking to pass along as much useful information as she can — while hurting no one.”
Following his untimely passing in 2018, Mrs. Hagerty was interviewed about her friend.
“Anthony Bourdain spoke up for me at a time when people all over the country were making great fun of the column I write,” she said. “To have a man of his stature rise up and befriend me, it meant a lot to me.”
Bourdain realized that to folks in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Marilyn Hagerty’s column had exceptional value.
And to folks in Patrick County, Virginia, Ivalien Reynolds’ column had exceptional value as well.
Thank you for your service, Mrs. Reynolds, and for being a friend.
(Editor’s Note: This installment concludes the long-running Mountain Top Party Line, which will be retired in Ivalien Reynolds’ honor. Reynolds and her work will be greatly missed. A new column, written by one of Reynolds’ relatives to help carry on her legacy, soon will make its debut.)