These days, a lot of the people I loved and admired when I was young are dying. Usually, I feel a wistful, nostalgic pang. I enjoy watching a few retrospectives on the news, and then I move on. But when I heard about the death of Mary Tyler Moore, it felt different. I was really sad—all day. I turned from one news channel to another, listening to the tributes of those who knew her, and those who merely remember.
On one channel, there were two women news anchors, too young to have watched the Mary Tyler Moore Show when it was first run, who became tearful as they talked about her influence on them. Then they laughed about not wanting to smear their mascara as they wiped their eyes. But the tears kept coming as they exclaimed, “Now we have to do stories on Vladimir Putin and on the economy! How are we going to go on?” Mary Richards, Moore’s TV character, was part of the inspiration for them to even be where they were. Her example transformed the aspirations of many a young woman.
Well, they did go on, of course. But it confirmed the influence Mary Tyler Moore has had on multiple generations of women. And Mary Richards would’ve loved it. She would not have wanted to smear her mascara, and she would have been embarrassed to cry on the air, to let the news strike her so deeply.
In those days, Mary Richards was a new type of woman. To begin to believe you can do something, you have to see that, not only is it possible, but that it actually exists. Then you can reach for it; then you can imagine how to transform yourself.
In real life, Mary Tyler Moore reached even higher than her TV counterpart. She was a producer, an entrepreneur, and a powerful woman in a business dominated by men. And she did it all with a warm smile and an open heart.
In the days since I heard the news, I’ve spoken to women ranging in age from their thirties into their eighties for whom Mary Richards struck a chord. She was the friend you either wanted to have or to be. She struggled against wage inequality, sexual harassment in the workplace, and the glass ceiling for women. Unfortunately, 47 years after the show first aired, we are still in those struggles. That’s why Mary Richards is still relevant.
When I’m sad, I like to have flowers. The night I heard the news, I stopped at the store to buy a bouquet to celebrate the Marys—the real one as well as the familiar TV friend. I couldn’t decide between the pink tulips and the pink carnations, so I bought them both. When they get old, I’ll add them to the compost bin and celebrate yet another transformation.