I know the Mary Tyler Moore tributes have been airing non-stop this week, but I’m throwing my hat into the fray, so to speak.
I was 13 in 1970 when Mary Tyler Moore drove her Ford Mustang to the big city and showed us what our futures could be. Up until then, the TV role models for young women of my generation had largely been characters that resembled our Mothers in mostly stay-at-home roles who spent their scenes in the kitchen. Not Mary – her kitchen was tiny, like it almost didn’t even matter. She was smart, hip, fashion savvy and dare I say, independent – all before the phrase “women’s lib” ever crossed our lips. We watched her get a great apartment, go on a job interview, get hired and then compete toe-to-toe with the guys. She showed us the strength that our female friendships could offer – women lifting each other up and supporting each other whether they were single or married.
Mary’s on the job struggles taught us about job titles, pay inequity, climbing the corporate ladder and conducting ourselves with grace, humor and integrity. She showed us that our colleagues often morphed into work families and that men and women could be genuine friends without sex. We watched her hire, fire, manage and mentor. We saw her date, stay out all night and worry about her biological clock. We grew up with Mary. I know I did. By the time The Mary Tyler Moore Show went off the air in 1977 I was almost ready for a career of my own.
When I ventured from Long Island into Manhattan for my first corporate job I didn’t fret that it was behind a typewriter, even though I had a Masters degree. Mary had taught me that creative jobs often began that way, but that my time would come. All the time I watched her, she was influencing me in ways I never knew until just this week. Her death made me sad because she was that fictional big sister – the woman we admired and wanted to be, all the while secretly thinking we were probably more like her pal, Rhoda.
I’ll alway wonder what happened to Mary after the new station manager finished downsizing (a first glimpse that some jobs end painfully and without cause). Did she become a broadcasting bigwig…did she opt out for a satisfying life in the burbs with an adoring husband and good kids? It really doesn’t matter. Those Saturday nights we spent together were life lessons and prepared me for a career in ways different and better than any classroom. They gave me hope, they gave me a goal.
Thanks Mary – I’ll miss you.