Griffith at her house in April Photo by Zizi Shalabi

Appreciation

Dotty Griffith, R.I.P.

The former Dallas Morning News dining critic died Monday at age 71.

Buffalo Bill ’s
defunct
who used to
ride a watersmooth-silver
stallion
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat
Jesus
he was a handsome man
and what i want to know is
how do you like your blue-eyed boy
Mister Death

—“Buffalo Bill’s,” by e e cummings

Dotty Griffith, a blue-eyed hunter, horsewoman, writer, wit, and friend, has died. Pancreatic cancer. Over the last three years, she underwent two surgeries and an onslaught of chemo. As Dotty faced her ultimate deadline, she exhibited her usual grace and humor.

Already months past what she called her “expiration date,” she kept chugging along — visiting her kids and grandkids, golfing, hunting, taking road trips with friends, long front porch lunches with girlfriends at the duplex she owned in Old East Dallas, and sitting by her backyard fire pit on moon-drenched evenings, talking and drinking.

When Dotty was a kid in Terrell, she and her friends rode their horses all of every summer day. At lunchtime, they walked them through the Dairy Queen drive-through — about as Texas as it gets.

She was as Texan as Ann Richards, at least as funny, and in some ways just as accomplished. She led a writer’s life, and she attacked it with a Swiss Army knife skill set, an unquenchable curiosity, and a bullshit detector that unerringly revealed — in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s words — where the milk is watered and the sugar is sanded, the rhinestone passed for diamond, and the stucco for stone. Dotty expressed all of this with crackling wit and a deep humanity that reached past the facts to reveal the soul of her subjects.

She had another, probably related, gift: when you were talking to Dotty, you felt like you were the only person in the world.

Dotty always defied expectations. Case in point: when she arrived at the University of Texas in 1968, she pledged a sorority and remained an active member. But she spent many weekends in Houston, reporting for Space City, Houston’s “hippie” underground weekly. She continued to blur lines and break barriers throughout her career.

This is not an obituary; it’s a salute. Nonetheless, for those of you who didn’t know Dotty, here are some facts about her 71-year life:

Dotty spent 34 years at the Dallas Morning News, covering stories from crime to politics as one of the first female general assignment reporters in that newsroom. Perhaps she’s best known as the newspaper’s longtime food editor and restaurant critic. Chef Dean Fearing has credited Dotty as helping “steer Dallas into the modern food world.” A big part of her legacy in food journalism is her role in the birth of modern Texas cuisine and Southwest cuisine, which Fearing led along with chefs Stephan Pyles of Dallas and Robert Del Grande of Houston.

Dotty was also a prolific freelance writer. Her work appeared in the New York Times, Gourmet, Southern Living, and other publications. She made national and local television appearances and wrote many successful cookbooks, including Wild About Chili, The Contemporary Cowboy Cookbook: from the Wild West to Wall Street, Celebrating Barbecue, The Texas Holiday Cookbook, and The Ultimate Tortilla Press Cookbook.

After retiring from the News, Dotty worked as communications director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, interim marketing director at the Dallas Arboretum, and executive director of the Restaurant Association of Greater Dallas. She also served as an adjunct professor of journalism at UNT and was a founding member of the Dallas chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier, a society of women food professionals.

She was named a Living Legend by the Dallas Press Club and has been inducted into the University of Texas Daily Texan Hall of Fame.

Drinking with Dotty was a particular pleasure. The first evening I got to know her well was at a final toast to The Loon in its original location. Her conversation was always filled with laughter and warm memories. We continued our evenings at various venues, and I was often honored to be her escort as she worked her final gig: food critic for the Katy Trail Weekly.

Not long before Dotty died, she offered me this valediction: “This has taught me to live like a dog,” she said. “A dog is completely in the moment and, I suspect, gets more out of life than most of us.”

Most of us, maybe, but not Dotty.

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