About Sara Gaal

Sara Gaal Sara Gaal is the events manager for the Allegheny Conference. She is a native of Squirrel Hill and after living on both coasts she proudly calls Pittsburgh home.
Sara Gaal
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.

Sara Gaal

foodIt’s the most wonderful time of the year. Nope, not Christmas. It’s Greek Food Festival season!

Most Pittsburghers have their favorite festival but each one should be experienced at least once. The season kicks off with the 52nd Annual St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral’s Festival in Oakland – the biggest in the city. I selflessly went to taste-test the food and had the pleasure of meeting the church’s priest, Father Christopher Bender. He appreciates “the ability to share our culture with everyone. Our food and dance are living parts of our tradition.” The festival will see 30,000 people walk through their doors and will gross more than $400,000 for the church. So, while you eat the delicious spanikopita (spinach and cheese pie) and dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) and drink that shot of ouzo, you’ll feel good knowing the money is going right back to the church.

While I’m not Greek, I find these food festivals full of all walks of life. They bring people together over a shared love of good food, music and sense of community. I looked over to my right and sitting at one long table were an elderly couple, a 30-something couple with two kids, and a priest – all eating and talking to one another. I realized that table was a microcosm of Pittsburgh. Yes, we have a higher-than-average population of seniors but more and more 20- and 30-somethings moving to – or moving back to — the region to raise families of their own. So, if you haven’t already, spend an evening with friends and strangers and enjoy the Greek food festivals now through August. Opa!

Sara Gaal

This Saturday I had the chance to see The Silence of the Lambs on the big screen as part of the Manor at Midnight Oscar Classics. Fun (nerdy) movie fact: it’s one of only three movies to receive the coveted Oscar “big five” winning Best Film, Director, Actor, Actress, and Writing. The Manor will show Oscar-winning movies every Saturday at midnight through the end of February – check out the schedule here.

Manor Theatre

And it should come as no surprise that the movie has a Pittsburgh connection. It was shot here — most notably at Carnegie Museum of Natural Historyand Soldiers and Sailors Museum Memorial. More than 20 years have passed since Lambs and in that time Pittsburgh has become a favorite location of movie studios, due in large part to our generous tax credit. In just the past three years, 24 movies have been filmed here and have brought more than $300 million into the region.

OK, enough about numbers. Let’s talk about this year’s Oscar nominees. Ben Affleck was snubbed. Can a 9-year-old really be a “Best Actress?” Tell me what movie will win Best Picture this year, by either leaving a comment below or Tweet us @ImaginePgh  and if you’re right, you’ll be registered to win a gift card to The Manor. I’m pretty good at picking the winners and make it a habit of seeing every* Best Picture nominee. So, give it a shot and see how you stack-up. You might just walk away with some free tickets!

Oh and if you haven’t been to The Manor recently, go check out the half-million dollar renovations the owners completed last year. New seats, digital conversion and perhaps best of all: a bar featuring beer, wine and movie inspired cocktails. It’s been a part of the city for 90 years and has adapted with the times, much like Pittsburgh itself.

*even the boring ones people claim to see but really don’t