I am Mary Richards

“How will you make it on your own?/This world is awfully big/Girl this time you’re all alone.”

These were the opening lyrics of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” a series that debuted on Saturday, Sept. 19, 1970. The opening sequence introduced audiences to a wistful, attractive young woman — the former Laura Petrie from “The Dick Van Dyke Show” — driving her car, destination: Minneapolis/St. Paul. Its dream sequence showed scenes from her going away party. The final lyrics of the theme song ended on a less than hopeful note: “You might just make it after all.” That line was changed from season two forward, as: “You’re gonna make it after all.” It also wouldn’t be until season two when the theme song would start off with the more buoyant: “Who can turn the world on with her smile?”

Mary Tyler Moore’s death hit me hard. It was like losing a mentor, a friend, a feminist hero. I found myself binge watching her show and replaying over and over again the show’s theme song, fantasying that I was the one strutting around Minneapolis, throwing my hat up in the air in the end.

I grew up watching “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in syndication, and immediately identified with “Mary Richards.” She was the type of woman I wanted to be when I grew up.

Mary was unassuming, polite and perky, with perfect teeth, great hair and a figure that made any outfit look dynamite on her. Mary could be pedantic, yet cheerful, eternally optimistic, but easily flustered (think back to her “Oh Rob!” days on Van Dyke’s show).

She didn’t rely on a man to support her. She was over 30 and single (gasp!). While she someday hoped to get married and become a mother, she didn’t see her single status as some type of affliction; she didn’t live her life in a holding pattern, circling the airport. She found a zest for her work as associate producer (and later producer) of the 6 o’clock news at the television station WJM. She had the self-satisfaction of earning her own way in life.

I grew up in a small town in Iowa, so when I moved away to attend the University of Iowa (for a time living without a roommate), it was a cultural shock. I even considered dropping out of school that trying first week, throwing up my hands in defeat, calling my parents in tears. But I stayed. Striking out on my own, I found myself “adulting.” But I didn’t just do enough to get by, I added coursework to make my classes more challenging so I could graduate with honors. I got published in the history department’s “Iowa Historical Review” — ironically for a research paper I wrote about “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” for my history course devoted to the study of the 1970s.

I felt like Mary Richards.

I was hired as the only “girl reporter” at the T-R, having only worked as a writer for my parents’ magazine Midwest Today, plus on some side projects.

I felt like Mary Richards.

Once, at an event I was covering for the paper, a man came up to me and said, “I didn’t know the newspaper hired such pretty reporters.” He meant no harm by the comment, but for a moment it made me feel like the token female.

I felt like Mary Richards.

While I managed to get married before the age of 30 (at age 25), I know there were people at my wedding who saw me as a late bloomer, while others thought I wasn’t ready for that big step. I’ve been asked derisively why I hyphenate my maiden name (I hate that term) with my husband’s last name. Less than a week after getting married in October 2015, a woman (a mere acquaintance) badgered me at a dinner party about my plans for procreation. “Now?” “Within a year?” The look on her face when I said no to both questions lingers in my memory.

I felt like Mary Richards.

Anyone who’s ever been talked down to, but didn’t stay down; anyone who’s ever been the victim of snap judgment, but proved the naysayers wrong; anyone who’s ever triumphed over self-doubt, is Mary Richards.

I am Mary Richards.

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Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or sjordan@timesrepublican.com