There were only two obituaries in the New York Times on Tuesday, August 12. One was of Robin Williams, starting on the front page and continuing inside at great length. The other was of a friend and occasional contributor to Commonweal, Dotty Lynch.
The Times obituary quoted something that Dotty wrote for American Catholics and Civic Engagement, one of the two volumes edited by Margaret O’Brien Steinfels that emerged from Commonweal’s American Catholics in the Public Square Project.
“I thought growing up an Irish Catholic Democrat in Brooklyn in the 1950s was about the best thing anyone could be,” Dotty wrote, “and I treasured each one of those labels.” If I weren’t 150 miles from our copies of that book I’d quote more.
Dotty was an incurable political junkie. She started work at NBC News in 1968. For two decades after 1985 she was the political editor and polling analyst at CBS News. In between she had been a leading pollster for several Democratic presidential candidates, a pioneer among female political pollsters and one of the first analysts to spot the importance of the gender gap.
Dotty popped up now and then on CBS or the PBS Newshour, but she was the quintessential behind-the-scenes force, feeding crucial information to the on-camera correspondents for their election night coverage, their interviews with candidates, or their questions in presidential debates. And she was dedicated to mentoring others, most recently as a professor at American University in Washington.
Of course, it all began earlier. As a high-school student, she caught the fervor of John F. Kennedy’s 1960 campaign. With a close friend, the daughter of Hugh Carey, then running for what would lead to seven terms in Congress and the governorship of New York, Dotty made her political debut. Wearing red, white, and blue and belting out campaign songs, she sat in an open Cadillac criss-crossing Carey’s Brooklyn district. When I last saw her a few years ago, it was easy to imagine her still doing the same. By that time she undoubtedly knew all there was to know about the down and dirty and disillusioning sides of politics. But she seemed as convinced as ever that it was a high calling essential to the common good.
Her emails last spring expressed enthusiasm for Pope Francis. Ever the pollster, she griped about a Pew poll focusing on whether Francis’s popularity was boosting church attendance. She believed that it should have tried to measure whether the pope had boosted poverty on the church’s agenda. R.I.P.
About the Author
Peter Steinfels, co-founder of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture and a former editor of Commonweal, is the author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America.