Me, Myself & Irene
Irene Haskins touched thousands of lives as a humorist for the Columbia Daily Tribune, a singer, a mentor and a friend. She was the master of uncensored candor, but criticism from Irene came without a sting because it was always accompanied by her infectious laugh. Her capacity for bringing joy was unrivaled, and with her recent passing, she leaves a hole in the heart of our community.
We suspect she would be deeply offended if we memorialized her with weepy tributes, and so we’ve collected some entertaining and personal “Irene stories” from friends who can’t help but smile when they remember her.
Inside Columbia photo editor and former bingo bum
When I was young, my world was in a tight little bubble. I rarely wandered out of my comfort zone. Then, I got my first “real” job.
The first person I got to know when I started my job as staff photographer for the Columbia Daily Tribunewas Irene Haskins.
I was young and cocky, and I had hair that ran down to the middle of my back. (Don’t judge; it was the late ‘80s.) My appearance usually put off older people, but not Irene.
We’d get a scolding from stressed reporters and editors while laughing and talking loudly at her desk during deadline. To avoid conflict, I would willingly let Irene drag me to lunch, her favorite fishing hole or to her regular bingo nights.
There are a lot of interesting characters that frequent bingo games. It was quite an eye-opener for me at that age. Irene and I made bingo our thing for several years. She made me a bingo bag to hold my daubers and good luck charms. We would spend hours in smoke-filled bingo halls around town playing that game. It was fascinating how many cards she could play at the same time while talking nonstop. I could never keep up with her.
Those talks over bingo were some of our most fun times and I still cherish those moments. It will be impossible to replace a person of Irene’s rough-edged wit and charm.
Maybe I need to start frequenting bingo halls again.
New Orleans magazine Web editor and one-time Irene eavesdropper
I met Irene Haskins when I interned at the Columbia Daily Tribune in the summer of 2010. Irene’s cubicle was connected to mine, so I would often hear her commentary. She commented on everything, from weird emails she received to her plans for lunch. But I especially got to know Irene when I decided she should be the subject of a paper I was working on for an online class.
The class was called “History of Women” (or something like that), and my final assignment was to interview a woman over 65. Naturally, I thought of Irene. Back at the Trib, I told her about my assignment, strategically leaving out the age requirement. She saw right through it. “Is it because I’m old?” she asked. I laughed nervously and ignored her question, but she later agreed to let me profile her for my project.
We set up a time to talk and met in a Tribune conference room. I will never forget that conversation. She told me about where she was born and when she got married. She talked about what life was like for women before they started going to college and having careers. She told me how she started working at the Trib and she reminisced about the days before the Internet in the newsroom. “It’s so quiet now,” she said.
But the best part of the afternoon was when we went back to her desk and she pulled out two boxes full of pieces she had written and other articles that had been written about her. Her colleagues joked about all the Irene paraphernalia she had stashed under her desk. Irene laughed, but you could tell she was proud of it.
Irene was one of Columbia’s favorite people and that summer I learned why.
Former KMIZ morning anchor, current Fox 23 (Tulsa, Okla.) morning anchor, and “big as a house” when pregnant
I’d read Irene Haskins’ columns forever, and had the pleasure of crossing paths with her at a few fundraisers fairly early in my career. I felt like I knew her, although we’d never been formally introduced.
Not long after I had my first child, I bumped into Irene. She, very candidly (of course) said, “I bet you’re glad that’s finally over! I am! You were as big as a house. It was hard to watch you ― that huge — on the news every morning.”
I wasn’t offended, because it wasn’t mean-spirited. It was definitely like she was laughing with me, not at me. Irene was genuine. That’s one of the things I loved about her. Her writing always brought me joy. I will miss her.
Irene joined the Tribune newsroom about the same time that a bunch of my Maneater cohorts were hired and put to work there under legendary editor Carolyn White. After White departed for Rolling Stone, Irene took over as housemother to what proved to be several consecutive generations of outstanding journalists, many of whom have gone on to book deals and Pulitzer Prizes and even Pulitzer judging. Too many of them preceded Irene in death. The rest are mostly still writing and snapping pictures and saying “Damn!” to themselves when they heard the news about Irene.
Back then. of course, they were all just finding their way. Newsrooms were much, much noisier and more chaotic than they are now. There was a lot of “living in public” going on ― parties abounded and bad behavior, while not the norm, was neither unheard of nor long remembered.
In the middle of it all, Irene sat and wrote brilliantly. It was Irene, unsolicited, who stepped in and held hands and offered handkerchiefs. Though she was part gossip columnist, she was the soul of discretion to them. And when you are as nice as she was to my friends, you become my friend. And she did. And I will miss running into her, always hearing her voice in the hall, announcing her love of life.
One final testimony to Irene’s humility was that I knew her for many years before I discovered that astonishing voice; she could sing like a bird.
She was a singer, a writer and real dame.
Owner of Charton Communications & Consulting and purveyor of licorice
I first met Irene more than 20 years ago. Actually, I heard Irene before I met her. I was visiting the Tribunenewsroom as the freshly arrived Associated Press Jefferson City correspondent, and a big voice echoed down the long main corridor. “Lord, are my feet killing me … say, WHO’S THIS?” We were introduced. “MISTER Charton!” she proclaimed, and I was forever summoned and hailed by Irene in that hearty fashion.
In 2000, when the AP appointed me Missouri roving correspondent, I selected the Tribune newsroom as home base, not just because of the paper’s reporting leadership and central statewide location, but because of its colorful inhabitants — Irene foremost among them. My way of making new friends was putting a heaping bowl of candy on the AP desk (then as now, young Tribune reporters were starving). And one older newsroom hand was lured; Irene paused, dug through the dish, and declared, “I don’t like hard candy! I like licorice!”
From that day forward, I always kept a supply of Twizzlers. We’d sit in the AP nook, munch licorice, and exchange tips in giggles and whispers. I briefed Irene about politics while she caught me up on Columbia’s social scene.
One highlight was the Tribune’s 2002 holiday party, when Irene received a big, mysterious box. She opened it and a live chicken burst out, clucking, flapping, agitated ― which also described Irene, who scampered around the newsroom screaming. It turned out she was terrified of the chicken, but she reveled in the joke, as always.
About a year ago, I teased her about the newest brewing tropical storm, called Irene. “Hmmmphhhh,” she said. “Call me when it’s a full-blown hurricane!” Irene even got a column out of the storm, musing about the hurricane headlines deploying her name, such as this one: “Irene Forces Couple To Run From Motel Naked.” Columbia’s funniest columnist ever quipped, “Serves ’em right for attempting the hokey-pokey in the middle of a hurricane!”
Like her namesake storm, Irene was a force of nature — loud, pushing forcefully, leaving a remarkable path and big memories.
Irene was one of the honored guests at the Christmas party at our house every year and for a couple of years we had Jim Bohannon, nationally syndicated talk show host, there. I remember the first year he came to the party. Once Irene figured out who he was, she ran up to him and opened her arms real big and said “Oh, my God! I go to bed with you every night!” ― referring, of course, to his late-night talk show that she listened to on KFRU.
For all the years I was on KFRU, Irene was always my co-host on the day after Christmas because Simon [Rosé] was always in England. We made it our tradition to give away as trivia contest prizes all the gifts we received at Christmas that we didn’t want, so we gave away some wonderful gifts on our Christmas show. One of our very first years of doing the show, Irene had a candle that she was trying to describe on the air and she said, “It’s brand-new, it’s still in the box, but I don’t what the scent is. I can’t figure it out.” The phone line lit up and when we took the call, it was Irene’s daughter: “Mom, it’s pomegranate. I gave it to you.” Irene was busted.
Irene had a full life. It’s hard to have too much remorse over her passing because she lived a very complete, very full life. She crammed five lifetimes into one.
Fellow Tribune writer and stick-to-the-notes-that-are-written singer
Irene loved music and was a good friend to me and the activities of my Sweet Adeline chorus. She’d occasionally come for a visit when the group had something special going on. She’d get right up on the risers with us, and instead of using music or even attempting to sing one of the parts of our four-part a capella harmony, she would “do her own thing”! Irene was one-of-a-kind in everything she did.
When she was short on items to use in her Snapshots column, she would often give me a call and say, “Nancy! You or your mother must have something that you’ve been doing that I could use. Why don’t you send me a photo and write a short article about it. I need it by 11 a.m.”
Irene got more done in a day than most people half her age. What an original.