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Leaving this realm — I know my journalism professors would have reiterated that I write “dying” — is a part of life. But when someone close has died, even when the person has spent many magical decades with us, it is still a bit of a shock.

Mary Tyler Moore died today at the age of 80. I did not know her personally. My Six Degrees of Separation moment was years ago when I met the photographer Annie Leibovitz who had spent time with Mary and described her “as very kind and very thin.”

mary-neuAs a young gay male growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, Mary Tyler Moore was one of my best and most constant role models. She taught me to stand up for myself without being heavy-handed. She encouraged me to redefine stereotypes people carried with them about gay men. Mary Tyler Moore, without ever knowing it, helped me try out for sports teams and stay on them even when my own teammates were rooting for me to lose. I strove to be gracious like Mary, to hold my ground in difficult situations and even try to find humor when the going got rough. She gave me permission to struggle, to go out on a limb, to open up to and to open doors for others, but also to feel lonely at times. She helped me to appreciate quiet walks, to risk entering into relationships, but also to know when to leave them gracefully.

I loved Mary Tyler Moore. Thank you for your smile, for your warmth, for all your wisdom, for knowing that we’re gonna make it after all!