Mary Tyler Moore, who lived with Type 1 diabetes, died today at the age of 80. She was a much loved actress, best known for her television roles in the 1960s sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show and the eponymous The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s. And to those of us in the diabetes community, she was our strongest ally.
For years, the first voice that greeted us on the JDRF phone system was that of Mary Tyler Moore. As it should have been. Ms. Moore was, after all, the heart, soul and lifeblood of the JDRF. It is not an exaggeration to say her willingness to share not just that voice, but that smile, that honesty, and that star-power pushed the diabetes treatment and research landscape to the place it is today.
I was lucky to have a front-row seat to much that Ms. Moore accomplished. She was part of a team, though. Her husband, Dr. S. Robert Levine was the “get it done” behind her calls to action. And what he did best was love Mary. And through that love and his desire for a better life for her has come a better life and better future for all of us.
I was with Ms. Moore when she testified before Congress (and had the thrill of having my own child testify with her). I attended JDRF national events with her, and when she came down the escalator of the J.W. Marriott in D.C. it felt as if she were floating down; waving, smiling, as all the staff and volunteers (like me) felt a thrill of hope. I sat at committee tables with her husband when he refused to take “maybe” for an answer. I watched him fight with his amazing ability to debate in the kindest and yet most forceful way, for what he felt needed to be done.
Ms. Moore gracefully and eloquently got our message across all over the world. She fought hard for access to CGM’s and pumps though she didn’t wear either herself. (She once told me that as a dancer, she preferred smooth lines and therefore was happier with injections. To that I said, more power to you; choice is a good thing.)
Ms. Moore reduced some of world’s top researchers to tears after she introduced them as recipients of the research award in her name and Robert’s name. She stood on stage with Robert, and in such a real, unscripted and heartfelt way, shared why their research was changing lives.
It strikes me, as the mother of a young adult with Type 1 who carries on in life despite it, that probably every single time Ms. Moore did these many remarkable things, she was probably thinking about her diabetes all along. She could have been going low. She might have felt high. She might have been thinking ahead to what time the next meal would be or if her current situation was going to bring on an adrenaline blood sugar spike. But, like so many we love with Type 1 diabetes, she never showed any of that.
We’ve lost our greatest advocate in the diabetes landscape, but she’s left us so much. Billions of dollars of research can be attributed to her. Hundreds of thousands of people with Type 1 diabetes have garnered hope from her. And more than a thousand children, who stood on the steps of Capitol Hill and sang with her will carry on the words to the song they sang:
“Promise to Remember me.”
We do, Mary Tyler Moore. We do.