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Mary Tyler Moore, this Minnesotan (and the internet) miss you already

Commentary: When you grow up in the Gopher State, love is all around, and so are reminders of Mary Richards.

HOLLYWOOD, CA - JANUARY 25: Flower arrangement placed on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame star of actress Mary Tyler Moore on January 25, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Tullberg/Getty Images)
Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

Early in my first journalism job as an editorial assistant for Mpls. St. Paul Magazine, I interviewed a young man who was in the right place at the right time. Walking home from his Minneapolis grade school around 1970, he and his friends were stopped by a group of strangers who asked them if they wanted to be on TV.

Today, it sounds like a prelude to a Lifetime murder mystery ("...and our studio is in that windowless van, kid"), but back then, stranger danger had yet to be invented. Still, the young man explained, half the kids scattered, and the other half stayed behind, where they were told to cross the street without looking at the pretty lady striding along carrying a grocery bag.

One take, boom, and they went home. Months later, spotted themselves in the opening credits of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." (Disclosure: The show ran on CBS, parent company of CNET.)

Plenty of people in my hometowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul had stories like that. Though the famed sitcom was filmed in Los Angeles, Twin Cities landmarks were woven through the famous credits.

Mary and (real-life) husband Grant Tinker are seen laughing at a restaurant table in the state's tallest building, the IDS, a table that now bears a plaque marking the event. Mary wears a Fran Tarkenton Vikings No. 10 jersey while washing her car -- I think we all had one back in the Vikes' four-Super Bowl heyday.

I drove out-of-towners past the impressive home that pretended to be Mary's in the credits, and explained the owner didn't want it used in updated credits. So the owner hung a huge "Impeach Nixon" banner out the window to prevent anyone from getting clean film of the house.

Even years before Minneapolis put up a statue of Mary tossing her hat on the city's iconic Nicollet Mall, co-workers and I went out and sleuthed out the exact spot to take a hat-tossing snapshot of our own. When I watch the credits now, I see home in every corner, memories in every intersection and escalator Mary takes.

Minnesota's claims to Mary Tyler Moore are more loose than its hold on another beloved celebrity we lost in the last year, Prince, who was born and actually lived in the area. But because we loved Mary, and her show, and what it meant for women, and for progress, and for Minnesotans, we're mourning news of her death Wednesday much in the same way as when Prince died last April.

Move beyond Mary Richards for a moment, and marvel at Moore's talent. She charmed as Laura Petrie on "The Dick Van Dyke Show," another CBS show, then impressed with her steely, Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe-winning role as Beth Jarrett in "Ordinary People." But it was as Mary Richards that she broke so many barriers -- a single working woman, always loyal to her friends and co-workers, showing how a family didn't always have to be related by blood.

And she won kudos too for living her life honestly and bravely -- admitting her alcoholism, making public her Type 1 diabetes and supporting causes that mattered to her, including animal-rights activism and arts education.

As word of her death at age 80 spread on Wednesday, the mourning came from Minnesota and far beyond.

When Mary drives away from her small town and broken relationship in the opening credits, she's alone. But once she sees the sign pointing to MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL, her life begins again. It was a lesson to all of us, wherever we lived. With determination and yes, the kind of spunky personality spurned famously by Mr. Grant, you can get where you want to be. Love really is all around.