MJ Tocci teaching at the Heinz Negotiation Academy for Women at Carnegie Mellon University, January 2013
MJ Tocci teaching at the Heinz Negotiation Academy for Women at Carnegie Mellon University, January 2013

UPDATE: An educational fund has been established for MJ’s children, Sam and Zoe Rest. Learn more here.

MJ Tocci, the co-founder of the Heinz Negotiation Academy for Women at Carnegie Mellon University and recipient of the 2011 ATHENA Award of Greater Pittsburgh, died on Feb. 15 of ovarian cancer.

In receiving the ATHENA Award, Tocci was recognized for the excellence of her work, her contributions to the community and her tireless efforts to mentor other women.

“On behalf of the entire ATHENA Pittsburgh community, we mourn the loss of MJ,” said Beth Marcello, chair of the 2014 ATHENA Host Committee. “MJ was an indefatigable champion for female leadership, an ardent believer in the power of mentorship and a true pioneer as the co-founder of the Heinz Negotiation Academy for Women. She will be missed by all who knew her and we will keep her memory alive as we continue our work to empower women in the region.”

Formerly a state prosecutor in California’s Bay Area, MJ designed the nation’s first training program to address gender in persuasion and advocacy for lawyers, going on to create specialized in-house training for leading firms and government agencies. Upon moving to Pittsburgh in 1996, she taught at Duquesne University’s School of Law and founded Fulcrum Advisors, which helped organizations recruit, retain and promote talented women. Through another start-up, Trial Run, she coached clients ranging from the U.S. Navy to international law firms on effective persuasion, negotiation and litigation skills.

In 2013, Tocci launched the Heinz Negotiation Academy for Women at CMU with economics professor Linda Babcock, co-author of the ground-breaking book Women Don’t Ask.

As a new hire to the Allegheny Conference, in 2011 I organized the ATHENA Awards for the first time. As luck would have it, it was the same year MJ was a finalist, and I had the opportunity to watch her being interviewed for the video seen below. MJ was a dynamic combination of strength and kindness.

She went on to win the award and to see her dream of the negotiation academy become a reality.

There are no adequate words to describe the personal loss I feel, as someone who merely had the fortune of crossing her path. She was the friend we all wished we had, the mentor few of us ever do and the woman we all hope to be. There’s a Jewish saying: “May her memory be a blessing.”

I know it will be to me and countless others.

You can watch a 2011 video of MJ discussing her work below, as well as her ATHENA Award acceptance speech and her remarks at the 2012 call for nominations breakfast (from 6:30-8:12). A feature obituary from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is here.