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Marilyn’s personal assistant tells all

One man who has documented every step of Herald columnist Marilyn Hagerty’s rise to fame said he understands why there’s so much hype — she just doesn’t care.

Forum Communications multimedia producer Ryan Babb has accompanied the food columnist on every trip she’s made over the past two years. He said the Internet bloggers tend to be good at running people down who care about something too much, but that’s just not the case with Hagerty.

“She doesn’t care, and for some reason, that endears her to people,” he said.

He referred to himself as an all-in-one personal assistant, videographer and photographer for Hagerty on these trips, and noted the 87-year-old is energetic and travels very well for her age.

“It’s fun stuff for her and it keeps her busy,” he said. “That’s why she still writes her five columns a week, too.”

Babb said his role for the company isn’t as traditionally defined compared to other jobs. He was initially chosen to accompany her because another videographer was on vacation, and his boss “just knew that I would have free time.” 

During one of her biggest trips to New York in 2012, Babb took snapshots of her sampling some of the best restaurants in the city, such as Dovetail NYC and Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin.

On that trip in particular, when Hagerty’s Olive Garden review was making the rounds everywhere, a lot of random people would approach her on the street, Babb said.

“They’d ask, ‘Are you the Olive Garden lady?’” he recounted. “That was the big deal. Whereas on this trip, it’s more like they just know who she is because of the book and Anthony Bourdain and all of that.”

Although he’s surprised her fame keeps returning, considering the traditionally short life spans of Internet sensations, he still feels it’s well-deserved.

“If you can make a cat with an ugly face popular, why not have someone who has 40 years of really good material? I feel like she’s earned it in a way,” he said.

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson is the K-12 education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald.  Contact her if you have any story ideas or tips and visit