Getting a promotion. Starting your own company. Dealing with the credit-takers and blame-deflectors of office politics.

When people in the workplace dreamed of a career with financial security and emotional satisfaction, Marilyn Moats Kennedy offered cheerleading, advice and strategies.

After the author and job strategist died in January of ovarian cancer, many said they’d lost the mentor who helped them achieve their goals.

“I couldn’t believe the way my life just changed by meeting this one person,” said Theresa Sullivan.

She and Ms. Kennedy struck up a conversation when a blizzard stranded them at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. A friendship started, filled with coaching that inspired Sullivan to start her own career consulting company, Wayfinder Advisors.

Ms. Kennedy connected her with mentors through the Small Business Administration’s SCORE program.

“She had so much wisdom,” Sullivan said. “She didn’t want you to be just like her. She wanted you to be just like you.”

“She didn’t believe there were any barriers — if I believed it, I could do it,” said Ce Cole Dillon, founder of Student Loan 411, which helps people with school loans qualify for lower payments and loan forgiveness.


Career strategist Marilyn Moats Kennedy (center, with head tilted) once taught writing at DePaul University. | Supplied photo

“When Marilyn engaged with others, they felt that they were the only ones that existed in her world in that moment of time,” psychologist Janet Shlaes, a management consultant, said in an online tribute.

Ms. Kennedy, 73, wrote a long-running careers column for Glamour magazine, as well as books on office politics and getting noticed, promoted and paid better.

She came to believe that work-life balance is a shifting target, according to a YouTube interview she did with another woman she mentored, Erica Bethe Kane, for “Real Talk with Cheeky Women.”

“I don’t think balance exists, to be frank,” she said in the video. “I used to think you could have it all. You can — but not all at one time.”

Marilyn Moats Kennedy in 1981. | File photo

Marilyn Moats Kennedy in 1981. | File photo

At her firm, called Moats-Kennedy, she focused on specific steps and hard work required for business success.

Dillon, once a staffer at Chicago State University, used to try, on the side, to help kids who were confused about their student loans.

“I just didn’t know if that was something you could actually build a business around,” she said.

After meeting with Ms. Kennedy, “She just smiled and said, ‘Of course, that’s do-able.’ ’’

Ms. Kennedy also pointed out key requirements for fledgling entrepreneurs: Dillon needed to find clients and sell them on her service. Dillon wound up getting business for Student Loan 411 through financial planners trying to lighten the burden of adult clients with student loans.

In addition to career coaching and media strategy, Ms. Kennedy offered management advice on intergenerational office species, from Baby Boomers to post-millennials. She helped Boomers understand that many younger workers see email as more efficient than conversation, and she encouraged millennials to pick up the phone more, said her daughter, attorney Anne Kennedy McGuire.

Young Marilyn grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, where she was a high-achieving debate team leader at Wyandotte High School. Her father Orin Lloyd Moats, a practical CPA, “told my mom she could never make a living as a writer,” said McGuire. After that, “She set out to prove him wrong.

“She set her mind on going to Northwestern University,” said Daniel J. Kennedy, her husband of almost 50 years.


Marilyn Moats Kennedy with grandson Declan. | Family photo

They met when she spotted his car near the “Wildcat Wash,” their daughter said. “My mom walked in to the laundromat and said, ‘Who has the [VW] Bug with Kansas plates?’ ”

She hadn’t known anyone else from Kansas was at Northwestern.

The Kennedys lived most of their married life in Wilmette. Later, they moved to the West Loop.

Before founding her first firm, Career Strategies, she taught journalism at DePaul University and worked at a company that planned corporate meetings.

“She always said that she would have trouble working for anyone else,” said her daughter. “She liked being her own boss and making her own rules.”

She did speaking engagements and appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s show and morning news programs. She helped found the Council of 100, a group of Northwestern alums who mentor other women.

Ms. Kennedy owned a bull terrier that sometimes abandoned walks, requiring her to carry the 70-pound dog home. She named it Laura because of her love for the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of “Little House on the Prairie.”

“You hardly ever saw her without a book,” her husband said.

Ms. Kennedy is also survived by a sister, Evelyn Munger; a brother, Orin Lloyd Moats Jr.; a half-brother, Jerry Jeffries; and two grandsons, Declan and Brennan. A memorial service is planned for 1 p.m. March 25 at the Woman’s Athletic Club of Chicago, 626 N. Michigan Ave.