If I’d owned a blue beret, I would have tossed it in the air. I was a fledgling news reporter in the early 1970s and Mary Richards was my inspiration, my role model. When all you’ve ever wanted is to be a journalist, seeing a young woman succeed in the news business — even in a fictional television sitcom — was affirmation.
“You’re gonna make it after all.”
Learning of the death this week of Mary Richards’ alter ego Mary Tyler Moore was like losing a big sister.
And as I processed the news of Mary Richards’ passing, my next thought was of my one-time editor and mentor, Joyce Smith. Though they were about as different in looks and demeanor as Marilyn Monroe and Carol Burnett, Mary Richards and Joyce Smith will forever be linked as the reasons I spent 20 years as a news reporter and have continued for another 20 as a writer.
Joyce, the first female editor at our small local newspaper, took this timid, 19-year-old college dropout under her wing. I’d been hired as a typist at The News-Sun but I had dreams of earning a desk in the news room. Joyce made that happen. My first reporting assignment was a feature story about my little brother’s T-ball team. Other assignments followed as Joyce patiently taught me to dig for the five Ws and one H (who, what, when, where, why and how) and edit out the “fluff” to make my sentences tight and precise. Joyce also modeled the integrity and impartiality that characterized her brand of good journalism. And she pushed me to get beyond my shyness and insecurity to master the art of the interview and to press in for the “just the facts.”
My years as a cub reporter were more valuable than any college journalism program. Though I came under my editor’s tutelage near the end of her journalism career, she was generous in passing on what she knew. Thanks to Joyce, my skills grew. Over my 20-year career, I was tapped to report on county government, business and agriculture news, as well as serve as the lifestyle editor and a regional reporter. I was honored to receive state and national press association awards for reporting.
All the while, I was channeling Mary Richards.
I never missed an episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and watched reruns whenever I could catch them. I followed Moore’s career and personal life, cheering her on as she took other roles and became a respected television producer in real life. Like most of America, I would always see her as Mary Richards, the spunky TV news reporter with the winning smile. Along the way, guys like Woodward and Bernstein added another brand of inspiration, but always, it was Mary Richards that showed me how to be a news woman.
From the New York Times:
“At least a decade before the twin figures of the harried working woman and the neurotic, unwed 30-something became media preoccupations, Ms. Moore’s portrayal — for which she won four of her seven Emmy Awards — expressed both the exuberance and the melancholy of the single career woman who could plot her own course without reference to cultural archetypes. The show, and her portrayal of Mary as a sisterly presence in the office, as well as a source of ingenuity and humor, was a balm to widespread anxieties about women in the work force.”
I was the first in my family to attend college, albeit for only a year. My parents urged me to come home after my freshman year at a state school and get an office job. I came home, but the “office job” put me on the path to my dream career. For me, Mary and Joyce were a balm to my own anxiety about being a young woman in the work force. They pointed the way.
Thank you, Ladies. I am forever grateful.