Written by Bethany Stoutamire (Former SDSU Extension Aging in Place Coordinator AmeriCorps VISTA Member) under the direction and review of Leacey E. Brown.
We often hear about child prodigies or people who achieve great success early in their life. What I find equally inspiring though is people who find or develop a passion later in life and are able to master it. Regardless of where we are in life, newly retired or going back to school, here are 6 individuals who mastered their passion later in life who can inspire us. After all, in the beginning of this new year, it is important to remember we are never too old for new beginnings.
Born in 1912, Julia Child once stated that she wished she had started cooking at 14. However, it wasn’t until she was in her thirties that she began to learn how to cook. After college she struggled to find a passion that could sustain her. At the beginning of World War II, Julia joined the Office of Strategic Services and it was through work that she met her husband Paul, and to impress him, began learning how to cook. A couple of years after their marriage, the couple moved to Paris for work and it was here that Julia fell in love with French food. The rest is history. She published her first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, at the age of 48 and went on to star in her own television show two years later. She continued to cook, write and share her passion for food into her 80s.
By all accounts Rosseau was an unexceptional student in school. After a stint in the French military, he took the job as a toll checking authority. While the beginning of his artistic career is uncertain, Rosseau says that he began to paint around the age of 40, possibly during slow periods at work. He began painting fulltime at the age of 49. While Rosseau’s never received conventional praise during his lifetime, he is now one of the most remembered figures of the art world. Some of his most famous works include Tiger in a Tropical Storm Surprised and The Sleeping Gypsy.
Penelope Fitzgerald was born into a prominent intellectual family amidst a community of other writers and artists. While she’d often written poems and was a strong writer as a child, she did not pursue writing or getting her works published until she was older. Instead, she worked numerous jobs as a film reviewer and teacher. In her life, Fitzgerald also had to overcome many personal difficulties. Her husband was an alcoholic and her family often lived in poverty. When Fitzgerald was 43, the houseboat her family lived on sunk and the family lost almost all their possessions. She published her first book, a biography, at the age of 58, her first novel at 61, and her last work at the age of 79. Some of her most famous works include The Blue Flower and Offshore, a novel based on her experience living on a houseboat that won the Man Booker Prize.
Grandma Moses began painting as a little girl when she was still known as Anna Mary Robertson. However, as she grew older she had little time for painting. After working as a hired girl, she married a farmer named Thomas Salmon Moses and stayed busy helping out her husband and raising their children. When she was older and after her husband’s death, she would often embroider farm life scenes. When her arthritis became too bad to continue this activity around the age of 77, her friends suggested that she try painting. After her work was spotted by an art collector, she began to exhibit her work and by the early 1950s was the only American to have a painting in the Paris Museum of Modern Art. She exhibited her work until her 90s and painted up to a few months before her death at the age of 101.
Julia Margaret Cameron
Cameron was born in 1815 and was 12 years old when the first photograph was taken by French inventor Nicéphore Niépce. It wasn’t until she was 48 years old that she was given a camera as a gift. She was enraptured by photography and quickly set about to “ennoble” it. As an upper class woman, Cameron took photographs of many of her well known peers, including Charles Darwin, Henry Longfellow, and Alice Liddell (Lewis Carroll’s inspiration for Alice in Wonderland). Though at the time Cameron’s photographic ability was largely dismissed by the photographic establishment, she is now seen as one of the great pioneers in photography.
Oscar Swahn was born in Sweden in 1847. He would go on to make his debut at the 1908 Olympic Games in London at the age of 60. He competed in the individual and team running deer shot events (where a deer shaped target with a bullseye is attached to a track), winning two gold medals and one bronze. He would later go on to compete in the 1912 and 1920 Olympics, medaling in both games. He still holds the Guinness World Record for Oldest Olympic Gold Medalist for his performance in the 1912 Olympics. His feat is particularly impressive when we remember that many Olympic athletes peak in their twenties and thirties and in some sports, like gymnastics, it’s common for athletes to retire even earlier.
There are many other individuals who have found and mastered a passion later in life, that it would be impossible to include them all. We will never know what we are capable of unless we try new things.
References & Additional Readings
- Late Bloomers: Stories of late-blooming achievement and success
- Julia! America’s Favorite Chef: Biography of Julia Child
- Julia Child’s Recipe for a Thoroughly Modern Marriage
- Henri Rousseau
- Biography of Henri Julien Rousseau
- Penelope Fitzgerald
- Books: Penelope Fitzgerald
- Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life,’ by Hermione Lee
- Grandma Moses Didn't Start Painting Until Her 70s. Here's Why
- Grandma Moses (Anna Mary Robertson Moses)
- Angels and Instincts: A Julia Margaret Cameron retrospective
- Oscar Swahn
- Who Is The Oldest Olympian Ever To Compete? Swedish Sharpshooter Oscar Swahn Set The Record In 1920
- Oldest Olympic Gold Medalist