"To be too certain of anything is the beginning of bigotry." -- Novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah

Friday, May 30, 2014

What the Dog Sitter Knows

     I'm dog sitting for my daughter for a few weeks. She's between apartments, staying with a friend, sleeping on the living room floor, in a building where they don't allow pets.

     So for the time being we have two dogs in our house. They are both "mixed breeds" -- a term we prefer over "mutt." There's B's dog, who's always with us:

She knows how to relax

     And my daughter's dog, who's with us until sometime in June:

And she's ready for anything

      I'm sure you've all heard the Groucho Marx quote about dogs:  "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."

     A lot of wisdom has been inspired by dogs:

     Golda Meir observed, "The dog that trots about finds the bone."

     Mark Twain wrote, "It's not the size of the dog in the fight; it's the size of the fight in the dog."

     Ann Landers warned, "Don't accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful."

     Abraham Lincoln pondered, "If you call a tail a leg how many legs has a dog? Five? No. Calling a tail a leg don't make it a leg."

    And Will Rogers admitted, "I love a dog. He does nothing for political reasons."

     As for daughters, well, it was Garrison Keillor who said, "The father of a daughter is nothing but a high-class hostage ... when she says, 'Daddy I need to ask you something,' he is a pat of butter in a frying pan."


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Devil of Low Inflation

     I recently had a bank CD come due and was bemoaning the fact that there's no place we can put our savings these days to generate any income. A 10-year Treasury bill pays less than 3 percent interest. The average stock in the S&P 500 yields less than 2 percent. And if you want to keep your hard-earned, carefully saved retirement money in a nice secure Certificate of Deposit, insured by the FDIC, you'd get less than 1 percent interest.

      If you had $1 million in your savings account at the bank -- that would be nice, wouldn't it? -- you'd receive only $700 or $800 a month to help with your living expenses. And you wouldn't even get that much because you'd have to pay income tax on that interest.

     Those of us who are more subject to the human frailty of spending most of what we earned while we were working and raising a family, and we have saved up, say, $100,000 in our retirement account . . . we'd receive $70 or $80 a month to help with our living expenses. As they say . . . big freakin' deal!

     So how's a retired person supposed to live these days?!?

     Then I started thinking, what's the alternative? Maybe there's a silver lining here. The main reason interest rates are so low is because inflation is low – just 1.5 percent for the last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So . . . prices for food and energy have gone up somewhat, but costs for clothes, furniture, appliances and electronics have gone down, and even the cost of health care has moderated a bit.

     We retirees need to remember that low inflation benefits us more than any other group. In fact, low inflation actually penalizes workers as it puts downward pressure on salaries and tightens the job market. But it's good for people on a fixed income, and most retirees are on a fixed income. Our pension, if we have one, is likely not indexed to inflation. Social Security benefits are adjusted for inflation; but it's an uncertain thing -- there was no cost-of-living increase at all in 2010 or 2011, and this year the increase was just 1.5 percent. Meantime, while low inflation makes it hard on workers, they are better protected against high inflation since pay scales generally rise in line with inflation.

     But retirees are by and large not protected against inflation. Most of us don't have a job. And most of us do not have income-producing assets. Sure, if you own a rental property, you can raise the rent if inflation goes up. But only a small fraction of retirees own rental properties. The rest of us rely on savings that are squirreled away in an IRA or other savings account that does not increase with inflation.

     Yes, most retirees -- some 80 percent of us -- own our own home. If inflation goes up, then the value of our house goes up. But for most of us this hardly matters. It's a good thing for younger people who can ride the wave of housing inflation to greater affluence over a long period of time. But retirees have a shorter time horizon. We just need someplace to live, and if we're not going anywhere, it doesn't really matter what the cash value of our house is.

     Finally, inflation helps out people with large debts, because over time inflation depreciates the value of money, so people pay off their debt in ever-cheaper dollars. The higher inflation is, the faster the debt goes down. But most retirees carry little or no debt. They don't have a big mortgage – about two-thirds of retired homeowners have no mortgage at all – and they are not looking to borrow money to start a business or finance their education. So retirees do not benefit from the debt reduction that automatically goes along with higher inflation.

     Of course, some people think that the inflation rate is higher than the government claims, citing gas prices, utilities, health care, real-estate taxes -- not to mention the cost of food at the grocery store. And they feel a squeeze on their income by low interest rates, the parsimonious payback on an annuity, the low return on a reverse mortgage, or the drying up of any other source of funds.

     But remember the 1970s? How would you cope if prices were climbing 6 or 7 percent a year, and every time you went to the store the price of milk and eggs and meat went up, or you couldn't even think about buying a new car because the sticker price went up $1000 since last year?

     The devil we know may be better than the devil we don't.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Pay It Forward

     I remember when my folks retired to Florida, back in the 1980s, we saw a used-car lot out on Route 1 with a big sign that advertised: "Buy Here! Pay Here!"

     We thought it was a joke. Isn't that the way everybody buys things? We couldn't figure out what the sign was offering that was so special. But the sign was up for as long as my parents lived there.

     (We later found out that "Buy Here! Pay Here!" is a way used-car salespeople sell cars to people with bad credit. The dealer extends credit to the buyer, so the buyer doesn't have to go to a bank where they will likely get turned down for the car loan.)

     The other night B and I were driving home from our dancing class, and for some reason I thought of the term, "Pay it forward."

     So I asked B, "What does 'pay it forward' mean, in your mind?"

     "Someone does you a favor," she replied. "You can't pay them back, so you do someone else a favor instead."

     I was ruminating (B was driving, so I was ruminating) on my last post about how we pay for our children's college tuition, and might help to pay tuition for our grandchildren as well. Your parents paid for your college tuition. You can't pay them back, so you pay it forward by paying for your own children. My kids are finished with college, and I don't have any grandchildren (yet?), and so it's easy for me to suggest that people chip in for other people's college tuition.

     Maybe I do my part by paying school taxes. Our school district just passed its 2014-'15 budget, spending a little over $26,000 per student. I have two kids who went through the school system; but I wasn't paying $52,000 a year in school tax. Other taxpayers were paying for my kids to get educated. Now it's my turn to pay it forward ... help pay for other people's kids to go to school.

     I guess everything we do for our children is paying it forward from our parents. Except we try to do it better, don't we?

     Last week I finished up my first year as a volunteer tutor at our local community college. I'm paying it forward to these other kids for all the help and advice and favors done for me when I was a younger. Not that there were very many that I remember. My parents were pretty hands off, even remote. My high school was a hostile place, and nobody helped me there. I had a professor in college, and a boss early in my career, who were mentors to me to some extent.

     I think some other people tried to help me out when I was a kid, but I found it hard to accept help . . . and even harder to ask. I see a difference in my kids. My daughter asks for a lot of help, and gets it. My son is much more reluctant to ask; and he seems to be more on his own. Maybe women find it easier to ask for help?

     The kids who come into our tutoring center at the community college are asking for help, and they need it, for most of them are from economically disadvantaged families. Some of these kids get more out the center than others; but they are all trying -- trying to get an education, trying to get a better job, trying to grab a piece of the American dream that some people think is fading away.

     I'm sure there's one thing they know that I never did -- what "Buy Here! Pay Here!" means. And so regardless of what our own backgrounds are, I think we owe it to them to Pay It Forward.

     There's a movie called Pay It Forward starring Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt. It came out in 2000 to mixed reviews -- by and large critics thought it was sentimental and syrupy while the audiences liked it. It's not on Netflix, but maybe I'll go down to the library and see if they have a DVD. Because I think we all need less "Pay Here!" and more "Pay It Forward."

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Why Your Son or Daughter or Grandchild Should Go to College

     It's college graduation time, and the website Mashable offers 15 Realistic Quotes that Every Graduate Should Hear. My favorite from this group comes from NPR's Ira Glass: "It takes a while. It's gonna take you a while. It's normal to take a while. You just have to fight your way through that."

     Some people have recently argued that college is not worth the time or the cost. Kids drink a lot of beer, but they don't learn all that much. Instead of getting a job after they graduate, they move back home with mom and dad. And college tuition is way too high. It burdens people with a ball-and-chain of debt that will drag them down for the rest of their lives.

     Just as an example:  Tuition and fees at Oberlin College, the small liberal arts school in Ohio, amount to $60,404 per year. That's a quarter million dollars for the degree. UCLA, a large state university, is half that price, at least for in-state students. Still, the equivalent tuition and fees are $30,970 for California residents and $53,848 for out-of-state students.

     A lot of that tuition money doesn't even go to teaching. It goes to coaches and administrators. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the president of the University of California system makes over $800,000 a year. The president of Texas A&M makes over $1.6 million a year. And there are 42 presidents of private colleges who take home more than $1 million a year.

     But that's just the start of what you're paying for when you write a tuition check, or take out that loan:  the UCLA football coach makes over $2 million a year. Top coaches at Alabama, Texas and Arkansas all make over $5 million a year!

     Now for the good news. It was brought to my attention by Jeremy Kisner who writes a blog for the financial management firm Surevest, based in Phoenix, AZ. In a post called Is College Worth the Cost? he shows that on average an adult with a bachelor’s degree earns $650,000 more over their lifetime than someone with just a high school degree. I think that number speaks for itself.

     In a follow-up post Kisner cites a 2014 Gallup-Purdue survey called Great Jobs, Great Lives which summarizes many of the benefits -- both financial and non-financial -- of going to college.

     You can go to these posts if you want more developed information and analysis. But what struck me about the survey is first:  It doesn't matter where you go to college (with the exception of for-profit schools which yield more modest results). The benefits are the same whether you go to a state school or a private school, a super-selective school or a run-of-the-mill school, a school in the Northeast or the South or the West. On average, college graduates are not only more likely to be working and earning more money, but they are more engaged with their work and happier at their job.

     The second thing that struck me:  College is not a passive experience. It's not so much where you go as what you do when you get there. Students who find a mentor in college -- a professor who takes a special interest in them -- later on experience greater life satisfaction. Students also realize great benefits from working a summer job or school internship that is related to their field of study. And people who finish college in four years -- who presumably are more intensely involved in the experience -- are later found to be more satisfied with their work and their lives in general.

     The one caveat? Yes, student debt affects people in a negative way. And the more debt a person shoulders, the more negatively it affects them. So the lesson:  there is little or no benefit to going to a more expensive college. Kids should apply to public schools and private schools, and schools all around the country. Then they should attend the school that offers them the best deal, regardless of how well the coaches (or the players) are being paid.

     One other lesson. Of course, students are better off if they can win scholarships. They are also better off if they can get their parents or grandparents to help foot the bill.

     Now I know there's a controversy around the issue of whether or not parents "owe" a college education to their kids. Certainly we Baby Boomers don't owe a college education to our grandchildren. But if we have a little extra money in our IRA, it wouldn't hurt to help them out, would it?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Surveying the Best Baby Boomer Blogs

     On her blog The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, offers various facts and figures to help seniors mark Older Americans Month.

     Yes, May is Older Americans Month. But . . . seniors? Older Americans? What does that have to do with us Baby Boomers?

     Oh yeah, as my daughter likes to remind me, there are a few gray hairs on my head and a few wrinkles creeping across my face. I'm not as facile with smartphone technology as she and her friends are. And she thinks my first language was Latin.*

Americans are living longer, and working longer too
     Or as Rita Robison puts it, "Although Baby Boomers don’t want to be called seniors, some of them are now age 65 and older. Born between 1946 and 1964, this year on their birthdays Boomers will turn between 50 and 68."

     She points out that today there are 43 million Americans over age 65. By the year 2060, that number is estimated to increase to . . . can you guess? (Hint: it's a lot.) Go over to Older Americans Month and see how close you are. In any case, I doubt the estimated number includes me -- I'd have to live well past 100 to be counted in the 2060 census.

     Speaking of our limited lifespan, Amy over at Modern Senior looks at Tikker, a new product scheduled for release next month that counts down the seconds until your death. (Really?!?) But hold on . . . the whole idea is that being aware of your mortality will actually make you happier and more present in the moment. Read more and weigh in with your thoughts at Will the Tikker Death Watch Make You Happier?

     As for me, I don't need to know how long I'm going to live, down to the second. But I do occasionally take those how-long-will-you-live quizzes. There may be some "better" ones out there (the "better" ones being those that estimate I'm going to live longer), but as I mentioned recently in Resources for Seniors, the one from University of Pennsylvania called How Long Will I Live? seems the most reasonable. It asks enough questions so you realize that it's using real data to estimate our life expectancy, without prying into every habit and taking and hour and a half to complete.

     Instead of focusing on when we'll die, Laura Lee Carter at Midlife Crisis Queen concentrates more on why we're here. In her post Have You Found Your Sense of Purpose Yet? she points out that according to new research a sense of purpose can add years to your life. "And according to my own research," she writes, "midlife is the best time to 'find your reason to be here!'"
      As for me, I spent the last few days not thinking about blogging. My family was visiting. My sister and her husband, from Phoenix, spent a day in New York City. My kids convened at my house, and then we all went out to dinner at a restaurant . . . where my daughter made her usual jokes about how well I know history because I was personal friends with some of our Founding Fathers. It was a restaurant across the street from the train station, because like many 20-somethings my kids are embarrassed to be seen in the suburbs, and they wanted to flee back to Brooklyn as soon as they possibly could.

     On Saturday we drove out to Jones Beach, on Long Island, where (as I mentioned on facebook) the air temperature was > 70; but the water temperature was < 60. But the point is, we all had a wonderful time. It's great for us older Americans -- I mean us healthy, vibrant Baby Boomers -- to get together with our families, reminisce about old times, and renew bonds with those people we know best. 

* I did study Latin in 7th, 8th and 9th grades, back when America was strong; schools taught readin', writin' and 'rithmetic; and I walked to school through the snow, uphill both ways. But then, my daughter studied Latin too, and persisted longer than I did, through her senior year in high school. I don't know what else Latin is good for, but it does help on your verbal SATs.

** Finally, an invitation to those who have read this far: If you're a Baby Boomer blogger, we do have a space or two open in our group of Best of Boomer Blogs. Want to join up to increase your reach and readership? Shoot me an email at tomsightings@gmail.com if you're interested.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

I Learned a Lesson Last Night

     Last night I played Ping Pong at my table tennis club, as I usually do on Monday nights. I started off by myself at a corner table, practicing my serves. Then Mike came over and asked me to play. I'd never played with Mike before, and as we started to hit I could see he was pretty good. Still, I thought I could keep up with him.

     He suggested we play a match. A table tennis match is best of 5 games. A game goes to 11 points, but you have to win by two points. Then whoever wins 3 games wins the match. Once we started playing for real, Mike turned up the heat, and he ran me around the table pretty mercilessly. He soon had me panting and sweating, and he beat me 3 games to 0.

     A few minutes later I saw Chris. I've played him many times before. He's a lot younger than I am, but he's about my level. He's rated slightly higher in our club ranking, but we generally go back and forth on our matches.

     It wasn't league night, so just before we began our match, I paused. "This is not for ranking," I clarified. "It's just for fun, right?"

     He leveled me a mock hard stare. "It'll be fun for me," he smiled.

     "Well," I laughed. "I don't mind providing you with some fun."

     He won the first game easily. But then he got cocky and started making mistakes. I won the second game. The third game went to 10-10. He won a point to take the advantage. I won the next point to get to deuce. We went back and forth a couple of times; but finally it was my ad, and I won the next point and took the game. It was a hard-fought, competitive match all the way, but Chris was getting frustrated and during the next game he started making even more mistakes. I won the fourth game when he faulted on his serve, and I took the match 3-1.

     After that I played with Charles. I'm better than Charles, and we both know it, but like me, he's an older fellow and we like to play together. I beat him easily at 3-0.

     Next up, I met Dirk, who used to be a real good player, but he hasn't played much lately, so he's unpredictable. Dirk won the first game, then I came back and won the second and third games. But then Dirk came on strong -- and by this time I was getting tired -- and he easily took games four and five. He bested me 3-2.

     After that another new fellow, a young guy named Adam, asked me to play. I was pretty exhausted by this point, and so I agreed we could hit for a little while, but I told him I didn't want to play a match; I had to go home soon.

     Adam turned out to be good, and he was smashing shots at me, putting me on the defensive very quickly. After a few minutes I was breathless. I held up my hand. "So, thanks, but I really have to go," I said. He was nice about it; we shook hands, and I walked off.

     As I left I saw Robert. He's another young fellow who likes to play with me -- because I give him a good match, but he usually wins. I said hello to Robert, but when he asked if I wanted to play, I begged off. "I gotta go," I said. I was really sagging by this point. "I'm tired," I told him. He looked as if he didn't believe me. So I added, "I'm old! I gotta get home. It's past my bedtime!"

     There was another fellow sitting on the bench next to Robert. A black guy, probably in his 50s. I've seen him around the club, and I know he's a good player -- too good for me to have ever played with him. He looked up at me. "Hey," he said with conviction in his voice. "Never say you're old!"

     I back looked at him. "Well, I'm tired. What other excuse do I have?" I was joking around. Didn't he get that?

     "Just never say you're old," he repeated. "I don't care how old you are. If you're 40, and you say you're old, suddenly you're 42. It makes you older just to say you're old."

     So I bantered with the guy for a minute, and I realized that he knew I was joking. But he wasn't joking. He meant what he said. I then stumbled off to the locker room to get my stuff and go home.

     I'd had a good workout. I'd played pretty well. I was tired. And I learned:  Never say you're old!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

2014 List of Best Places to Retire

     A new list came out last week ranking states for how good they are as a place to retire. This one comes from bankrate, a financial website, and is sponsored by ally bank. I'm sure we all take these lists with a grain of salt. But it's hard not to look at them and see where you stand.

     The ranking is based on things like health care, cost of living, tax rates, crime rates. And just so you know, the state where I live comes in dead last. New York is ranked No. 50 out of 50 states. Sigh.

     But we all know there are lots of caveats. For example, a state may rank low on various measures, but a particular town or area in a state may offer better possibilities. You may not want to retire to Scarsdale, NY, where the roads are congested, the cost of living is high, school taxes are astronomical, and many of the amenities are geared toward families with children. But you might move up to the Hudson Valley, 50 miles north, and while the cost of living would still be pretty high, it's a lot less than Scarsdale, and there's less congestion and more public parks and adult-education opportunities.

Number 50
     Also, since cost of living is a big factor in most rankings of retirement, there might be a lot of places where it would be great to retire . . . if only you could afford it. I know several people who would love to live in Manhattan, but they just can't afford the rents. For a time, I aspired to retire to Washington, DC, until I found out that I couldn't even come close to buying a decent home there.

     I remember my buddies and I used to joke about retiring to San Luis Obispo, Calif. At one point it was ranked the Number 1 place to live in America -- it's on the Pacific Ocean; it has the perfect climate, lots of outdoor activities, and it's convenient to both San Francisco and Los Angeles. The only problem is that for what we'd get from selling a four-bedroom house in the New York suburbs, we'd be lucky to be able to afford a studio apartment in San Luis Obispo.

     Then there's my brother in law. He and his wife moved from one expensive Boston suburb to an even more expensive Boston suburb, and now they live in a tiny house with a tiny yard. Why? Because that's where their daughter lives, and they want to live near their daughter and their grandchildren. There's no arguing with that!

     Anyway, to the rankings. New York is ranked No. 50. Last year it tied for No. 33 with Arizona, so I don't know what happened in New York to make it drop 17 places in one year. Last year Oregon was rated dead last -- which seems odd since a lot of people retire to Oregon -- but this year Oregon has improved to No. 34.

     By the way, for you West Coasters . . . California is No. 28, Washington is No. 22, Nevada is No. 18. And somehow Arizona has improved to No. 16, from No. 33. What happened? They must have had some rain! But don't get complacent, Sun Devils, Idaho is ranked No. 8.

     But the fact is, if you want to live in the best place to retire, the only way would be to live in an RV, and every year be ready to pick up stakes and travel to another state as soon as the next list is published.

Number 1
     The traditional retirement state of Florida is rated down at No. 39. It does well on measures of tax burden and average sunshine; but worse than average on crime and health care. But I'm sure Naples or Jupiter would rank higher than Belle Glade or Bushnell.

     So what state is rated at the top? Drum roll please. No. 3 is Utah. No. 2 is Colorado. And No. 1 is South Dakota.

     But here's another problem with these rankings. When did you ever hear of anyone wanting to retire to South Dakota?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Resources for Seniors

     Today, I'd like to remind everyone that way down at the bottom of my site there is a list of links to online resources that might prove helpful for retired people. Some of them you probably already know about, like the New York Times blog called The New Old Age, and the travel site Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel) which focuses on travel opportunities centered on lifelong learning.

     I was going to provide links to the sites I mention here ... but then you might just click on the link and not go down to the bottom of the page! So, go down to the bottom of the page, look around for yourself, and click on the links there if you want.

     If you know of some other good sites, maybe you'd be willing to share them. Let us know if you've found any other useful sites that cover health, finance, retirement – or any "other concerns of people who suddenly realize that somehow they have grown up."

     From the list below, I particularly like these three:

     1. The Legacy Project. This is a site produced by Karl Pillemer, a professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University, and Professor of Gerontology in Medicine at the Weill Cornell Medical College. He collects practical advice from "older Americans who have lived through extraordinary experiences and historical events."

     Pillemer gives us words of wisdom from regular people, such as Nita who tells us: "Nurture good friendships and good will with family, neighbors, coworkers, and others." And then she goes on to advise: "Don’t bore the younger generations with tales of living during the Depression."

     Pillemer also passes on some basic but oft-forgotten marriage advice:  "In long marriages, people have learned the value of simple civility. They point out that we often talk to our spouses in ways we’d never talk to friends or co-workers: dismissively, insultingly, or disrespectfully. Simple politeness in spousal interaction, they say, can prevent many a spat or tiff."

     2. Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. The approach here is a little more academic, but it covers all sorts of topics from Social Security to senior housing. There's an article called "How Prepared Are State and Local Workers for Retirement?" It finds that "most households with state-local employment end up with replacement rates that, while on average higher than those in the private sector, are well below the 80 percent needed to maintain pre-retirement living standards."

     Another paper asks: "How Do Subjective Longevity Expectations Influence Retirement Plans?" It concludes that people who are confident that they will live to at least age 75 are more likely to keep working fulltime to a later retirement age. In a way that sounds obvious. But does it mean that those of us who took early retirement expect to die at a younger age?

     Anyway, I'd encourage people who are a little more academically inclined to poke around on the Boston College site, and expand their understanding of retirement and what it means for all of us.

     3. How Long Will I Live? Apropos to the question implied by the Retirement Center at Boston College, this quiz from the University of Pennsylvania will calculate your life expectancy by asking you a series of questions about your family, your work life, your lifestyle. Of course, there are a bevy of so-called life calculators out there. This one, I've found, asks enough questions to be reasonably accurate, without putting you through a long drawn out examination.

     Anyway, I encourage you to search through some of these sites. And again, if you can suggest any others that would be helpful, please let us know. Happy hunting!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Remember Her?

     Let's see if you remember this woman, a young TV actress in the 1960s who went on to become a truly iconic star of the 1970s.

     She co-starred in a half-hour comedy from 1961 to 1966, and for her role as a mother and wife living in New Rochelle, NY, she won the Emmy for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in 1964 and again in 1966.

     In her second TV series she played a single working woman. For this role she won Best Actress in a Comedy Series as well as Actress of the Year in 1974 -- and went on to win Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series in 1976.

     She later tried several other TV shows, including a comedy series and a variety show, but nothing worked out the way she wanted, and so she did several turns in guest spots on the Ellen DeGeneres show, That '70s Show and a few others.

     She also played on Broadway and starred in several movies. She won the Golden Globe in 1980 for Best Performance by an Actress, and that same year was nominated for Best Actress by the Academy Awards (the Oscar ultimately went to Sissy Spacek for her part in Coal Miner's Daughter).

     Born in New York in 1936, she moved with her family to Los Angeles when she was eight years old. She began her career as a dancer in TV commercials for Hotpoint appliances -- but had to give that up when she got pregnant with her first husband Dick Meeker.

     She appeared as a guest in several TV shows and auditioned for the role of Danny Thomas's older daughter in Make Room for Daddy. She didn't get the part. Thomas allegedly turned her down because, as he explained, "no daughter of mine could have that [little] nose."

     But she must have impressed the older comedian (and former radio star), because when he teamed up with Sheldon Leonard and Carl Reiner to produce a new half-hour comedy, based on Reiner's experience with Sid Caesar's old TV show, he remembered the vivacious young actress and recommended her for the leading female role. She won the part of Laura Petrie, perky wife of Rob Petrie, head writer for the fictitious Alan Brady Show.

     Laura Petrie was the wife on the Dick Van Dyke Show, which altogether won 15 Emmy Awards and was later named Number 13 on TV Guide's List of the top 50 TV shows.

     And Laura Petrie was, of course, played by Mary Tyler Moore, who went on to star in her own Mary Tyler Moore Show, which bested even the Dick Van Dyke Show in both influence and popularity. MTM, as it was known, won 29 Emmys altogether, and placed Number 11 on the TV Guide top 50 list.

     But even more than the ratings, or the critical acclaim, the show was celebrated as a television breakthrough. For the first time a TV show featured a central character who was an independent, single career woman in her 30s. Mary Richards worked for the local Minneapolis TV news show, with Ed Asner playing her boss Lou Grant, and Ted Knight portraying the clueless news anchor. The setting of the show alternated between Mary's workplace, and her apartment, featuring neighbors Rhoda (played by Valerie Harper) and Phyllis (played by Cloris Leachman).

     Today, a statue of Mary Richards stands in downtown Minneapolis, showing her tossing her hat in the air, as she did in the opening credits for the show for seven years in the 1970s.

     Mary Tyler Moore was also a star of the big screen, making more than a dozen movies, including one with Elvis Presley. But it was her portrayal of the emotionally fragile mother in the searing movie Ordinary People (which beat out Coal Miner's Daughter for Best Picture) that brought her the most critical acclaim, including her Academy Award nomination. Donald Sutherland played her husband as they worked through the trauma of their older son's death, and their younger son's attempted suicide.

     Mary Tyler Moore, now age 77, has had problems to deal with in real life as well. She went through two divorces, and is currently married to her third husband, Robert Levine, a doctor. In 1980 her only child, Richie Meeker, accidentally killed himself, shooting himself in the head while handling a sawed-off shotgun.

     Moore suffers from diabetes, first diagnosed in the early 1970s, and has been active in raising funds to help in diabetes research and treatment. She has also been active in animal rights -- at one point she'd reportedly adopted 132 cats who were living at her home outside New York -- and has worked with Farm Sanctuary, which supports animal welfare on farms, and with Broadway Barks, an annual event in New York City promoting the adoption of shelter dogs and cats.

     If you want to know more, she has also written two books: an autobiography called After All, published in 1995, and Growing Up Again, published in 2009, reflecting on her experience living with diabetes.