When mom goes viral

Marilyn Hagerty is the long-time columnist for the Grand Forks Herald. She is still going strong way past retirement age. Indeed, she has just become a celebrity.

Her straightforward review of the long-awaited Olive Garden that opened in Grand Forks in February has turned her into a celebrity of squareness. The Atlantic and Gawker touted Ms. Hagerty’s review. Gawker followed up with “A treasury of unironic Olive Garden reviews.”

James R. Hagerty is a Wall Street Journal reporter and somewhat unironic as well. His unironic love of his mom shines through his page-one story: “When mom goes viral.” Hagerty observes of his mom: “She didn’t worry about how her story would play on Gawker, partly because she had never heard of Gawker.”

The Herald has taken a step back to comment on Ms. Hagerty’s sudden renown. Ryan Bakken reports with some pride: “Marilyn Hagerty takes America by viral storm.” Bakken quotes Ms. Hagerty: “I don’t get it. I’ve been doing this for 30 to 40 years. Why all of a sudden now?”

Emily Esfahani Smith took a stab at answering the question in “Why do some things go viral, others not?” Best of all, the Weekly Standard’s Claudia Anderson stepped forward to testify:

There might seem little left to add after the front-page story in today’s Wall Street Journal by Marilyn’s son, James R. Hagerty, a 30-year veteran of the WSJ and the International Herald Tribune in Hong Kong, London, Brussels, Paris, Atlanta, New York, and now Pittsburgh. His piece about his suddenly celebrated mother stresses substance – her work ethic (at 85, she writes five pieces a week for the Grand Forks Herald, the daily long edited by her late husband), her good cheer in the face of swinish condescension, and her flair for human interest stories like those collected in Echoes, still available on Amazon [Note: Not anymore]. The unstated subtext: It was no simpleton who raised this reporter.

Partaking of the family modesty, James Hagerty omitted mention of his accomplished sisters, both lawyers. Gail, a mother of three, is presiding judge of the state district court in Bismarck. She’s married to a justice of the North Dakota supreme court.

Their sister Carol, my friend for 35 years, had an adventurous legal career in Washington, D.C., Tokyo, and Denver before marrying a rancher and continuing her practice from the family place on the South Platte River. In her forties, she gave birth to a son and twin daughters. Carol died last December, after a rapid decline from ALS. Here’s the column Marilyn Hagerty wrote after her daughter’s death. It may convey why so many of us cherish her as gallant and wise.

There is a joke here, alright, but it’s not on Marilyn Hagerty.

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