Goodbye, Mary Tyler Moore.
Our Diabetes Community is mourning the loss of a legendary type 1 champion who changed the world of advocacy, awareness, and research-funding for T1D.
Mary Tyler Moore died on Wednesday, Jan. 25, at age 80 of pneumonia, with her family by her side, according to media reports.
She made an impact worldwide through her TV acting career, most famously on the Dick Van Dyke Show and then her namesake Mary Tyler Moore in the 1970s. For those of us in the D-Community, her tireless advocacy work changed the landscape on what the public knew about diabetes, and the money raised for research for better treatments and a cure.
Diagnosed at age 33 back in 1970, Mary entered the D-Community the same year her namesake show was launched, as well as the same year the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation (JDF) was founded. Aside from the glass ceilings she shattered for women in those days, she broke through many diabetes stereotypes — from being diagnosed as an adult with what was then commonly known as “juvenile diabetes,” to not presenting the face of a “textbook diabetic” struggling with her disease. Rather, she showed the world that PWDs (people with diabetes) could succeed and live a full life, without diabetes stopping them from achieving their dreams.
Of course, many of us knew her as the face of diabetes growing up — she was certainly the only celebrity I was aware of living with and talking openly about type 1. It was a time before celebrities did that as commonly as they do know, and Mary certainly set the stage for all who’d follow.
She became international chairman of the JDF in 1984 (the year I was diagnosed!), and I vividly recall seeing the JDF commercials in which she invited people to call the organization’s offices and get involved. Most recently, she appeared in the “What Does Hope Look Like?” ad campaign.
Through the years, she helped raise millions in research funding and chaired the Children’s Congress from its inception in 1999, and her book “Growing Up Again: Life, Loves, and Oh Yeah Diabetes” is included in the JDRF’s T1D Care Kit resource for newly diagnosed adults. A decade ago in 2007, Mary won the JDRF’s Humanitarian of the Year Award.
“Mary Tyler Moore’s legacy is that of a woman who tirelessly committed herself to helping the millions with T1D,” the JDRF said in a statement. “Our country has lost an advocate, a hero and a woman who ‘turned the world on with her smile’ both on and off screen.”
Within a day of her passing, the JDRF also set up a micro-site page honoring Mary, and giving our D-Community a place to share stories and tributes to her online. You can find that at MooreForever.org, associated with the “Moore Forever” campaign that several local chapters started in 2012 after Mary received the SAG Lifetime Achievement Award for her TV and film career.
Mary is survived by her husband of 33 years, Dr. Robert Levine, who’s also been intimately involved with the JDRF through the years, serving multiple terms on the group’s international board, chairing various committees through the years, and helping to develop JDRF’s advocacy strategy, brand initiatives, research program design, and online diabetes support team.
In the days following Mary’s death, many have been sharing thoughts, memories, and condolences.
We spoke with D-Mom Lee Ducat, who co-founded what was then known as the JDF back in 1970 and worked closely with Mary Tyler Moore through the years. In fact, it was Ducat who first recruited Mary to get involved in the JDF. She remembers the she couldn’t snag a meeting with Mary after cold-calling the actresses’ agent. But finally after pressing, Ducat was able to get an hour with Mary at a fancy New York restaurant one day for lunch.
“She was exactly as she was on television — so smart, nice, and beautiful in person… and so very talented, just lighting up the room,” Ducat says.
The young actress wasn’t eager to sign on with the JDF at first, Ducat recalls. Celebrities weren’t vocal about their ailments and challenges the way many are these days, and certainly there weren’t many out there in the public eye in the early 80s.
“She had never worked as an advocate for diabetes or another disease before, and was worried it might hurt her image and career,” Ducat said. “But she listened, and by the end of lunch we’d become good friends and she agreed to be an advocate for JDF. We were so very lucky to have her, and I am very grateful for having met her and been able to work with her.”
As history now shows, getting Mary on board made an incredible difference and changed the way the world saw diabetes.
“My thinking was that celebrities could make a big impact on funding for research and helping to raise awareness with the general public,” Ducat said. “We were young and just starting out, and I thought having her on board could help us focus the country on diabetes and make our diabetes community stronger, and create a whole new line of revenue for research.”
The impact of Mary’s involvement — as well as other celebs, by then — most certainly made a direct impact on research development, in getting continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) covered by insurers, and in numerous other advocacy and awareness-raising efforts.
D-Dad Jeffrey Brewer, who headed JDRF before founding the closed loop startup Bigfoot Biomedical, worked with Mary during his time in the early 2000s. He tells us:
“Mary’s openness about her life with T1D educated the world about a little understood disease. Mary’s advocacy on behalf of all those affected with T1D has surely accelerated us all along the path to a cure and made possible many of today’s advances. My thoughts are with her family.”
We’ve also seen a smattering of online tributes to Mary Tyler Moore, from the around the blogging community:
- How Mary Tyler Moore Helped Me Live with Type 1 Diabetes (Miriam Tucker at NPR)
- Actress and Diabetes Advocate Mary Tyler Moore Dies at 80 (Moira McCarthy, A Sweet Life)
- In Memoriam (Craig Idlebrook, Insulin Nation)
- Mary Tyler Moore Leaves Us (Riva Greenberg, Diabetes Stories)
- Saying Goodbye to Actress and Diabetes Advocate Mary Tyler Moore (Sarah Kaye, Diabetes Daily)
- No One Was Better for Diabetes Causes Than Mary (Tom Karlya, Diabetes Dad)
- Mary Tyler Moore Was Diagnosed at 33 (Scott Benner, Arden’s Day)
- Mary Tyler Moore (Joslin Diabetes Center, Speaking of Diabetes)
- Remembering Mary Tyler Moore (Rick Phillips, RA Diabetes)
And of course on forums, Facebook and Twitter feeds, many others have been sharing thoughts about how Mary influenced or inspired them — many including the blue candle symbol of remembrance for someone lost to this community.
Some statements that struck us in particular:
“My heart is not just heavy, it is cracking. Mary Tyler Moore is not just an icon but a fighter. And she fought so hard to raise awareness for type 1 diabetes and JDRF. Growing up she is who I was always told about when someone wanted to inspire me and say life would be okay — just look at Mary Tyler Moore!”
“I was diagnosed in 1970 and knew no one who had diabetes. When I found out that Mary Tyler Moore also had diabetes, it was like a whole new world opened up for me. If she could do all that she did (act, sing, dance), so could I… Mary could and did do it all. And on top of all the diabetes stuff, she was a woman making it on her own. Wow! I loved her! So sorry to hear she’s gone but I won’t forget her, ever. And I think every young woman in America should watch her show, so they know they can make it on their own!”
“I remember the day I was diagnosed with T1D, in 2012. I didn’t know much about it at that point but I knew the world as I knew it was ending. The CDE told me ‘Mary Tyler Moore has had type 1 diabetes forever and she’s doing just fine.’ I had no idea that was the case! I found so much comfort in knowing this beautiful woman who I’d been aware of my whole life had been able to make it through this, maybe I could too. A hand in life well-played. RIP Mary.”
“I am heartbroken!! I so wish my mother were still here because she would totally understand exactly what I am feeling as she first told me about MTM’s diabetes this starting my lifelong connection with her! Rest In Peace Mary… you are and always will be my diabetes champion!”
“My first memory after waking up from my DKA coma was to my mom watching the Mary Tyler Moore show on Nick at Nite in my hospital room. I didn’t know what diabetes was, or that I had it, but my mom said Mary Tyler Moore had diabetes too and that she never let it stop her. I’ll never forget that. Thank you MTM for being such a wonderful advocate and role model for us all, especially T1Ders.”
From us at DiabetesMine: we echo all those sentiments and want to simply say THANK YOU for everything you’ve done for us over the years, Mary. We promise to remember you, and do our best to continue your legacy!
Rest in Peace, D-Sister.