George Will, David Broder, Robert Novak, Ellen Goodman, Anna Quindlen - all fine columnists with wide readership, but none of them generate the circulation and readers' affection that Ann Landers did. Ms. Landers, whose real name was Eppie Lederer, died Saturday at age 83.
Her first advice column was published Oct. 16, 1955, in 26 papers. By the mid-'90s, "Dear Ann" appeared in 1,200 newspapers worldwide, including The Chronicle, with 90 million readers. She always ranked very high in lists of most influential women.
Whether she was responding to "Angry from Anchorage," "Upset from Utah" or "Know Better in Augusta" (yesterday's letter), she dealt with everyday human problems that connected to people in very personal ways. The advice covered the gamut - child-rearing, marital difficulties, health issues, even housekeeping.
She did touch on hot-button political and social issues, but only as they affected her readers. She supported abortion and homosexual rights, yet the primary thrust of her advice was to reinforce the importance of family as the nation's bedrock.
"I see myself as a listener," she once told a friend. "I look for letters that teach something. Or that people can relate to. Or that are very offbeat."
Margo Howard, Ms. Lederer's daughter, put her mother's passing in perspective in an interview with The Chicago Tribune which publishes the famed advice column. "She was like America's mother, and I'm not alone in my sadness."
Indeed, she's not.