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Three Very Late Achievers

Some of the world’s most well known individuals didn’t make their mark in youth or even in early adulthood. They achieved notoriety or success at a time when many are thinking about slowing down and simplifying life.


Engagement is key to enjoying a fun and fulfilling life, says Denise Flowerday, life enrichment manager at Paradise Valley Estates, a northern California continuing care retirement community. “You finally have time to ask yourself: What do I want to learn and experience in life?” says Denise. “When you move to a community like Paradise Valley Estates, you have the wherewithal to explore a life that’s no longer consumed by raising children or going to work every day.”

Here are the stories of three people who enjoyed great accomplishments long after many of their peers began to slow down.

Nelson Mandela
Born in 1918, Mandela fought against apartheid in South Africa. In early years, he limited his work to nonviolent civil disobedience. But after years of little progress and the Sharpeville Massacre in which 69 peaceful protesters were killed, Mandela opted to lead a more militant group that eventually led to his arrest in 1962 at the age of 44.

Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison, was released in 1990 at the age of 71. In 1993, he won the Nobel Peace Prize and, one year later, became South Africa’s first black president – the first elected by a completely democratic election. He served as president for five years. Mandela fought against white domination and later fought against black domination. His vision for South Africa was one of equality and racial harmony. His anti-apartheid legacy is known worldwide, but, in his home country, Mandela is affectionately referred to as “Tata” or father.

Grandma Moses
Anna Mary Robertson Moses was born in 1860 and died in 1961 at the age of 101. Throughout her life, Moses made a living creating delicate needlepoint embroidery. When painful arthritis forced her to put down her needles, she picked up a paintbrush. In doing so, Grandma Moses created a style that achieved stunning success with one of her paintings now gracing the walls of the White House.

The prolific artist completed more than 3,600 pieces in the 25 years she worked as a painter. While her early works sold for a few dollars each, she was discovered by an art collector in her late 70s and, shortly after, earned international acclaim. Moses was friends with Norman Rockwell, who even included her in one of his own paintings.

Helen Hooven Santmyer
This American author wrote And Ladies of the Club, which spent thirty-seven weeks on the New York Times bestseller list in the early 1980s, when Santmyer was in her late 80s. She began writing the book at the age of 69 and the 1300-page epic took about ten years to complete.

Santmyer’s life included many setbacks such as illnesses – first her mother’s and then her own – and later the Great Depression. Everything changed when a well-connected woman overheard another library patron praising the book. Word spread so far, a major publisher purchased the rights and it became a Book-of-the-Month club selection when she was 89.

Achievement Knows No Age
These three late achievers were healthy in mind and body and remained devoted to their individual purposes long into their lives. Flowerday also points out that ‘works of heart’ can also have meaningful wellness benefits, too.

“When you try new experiences and force yourself to learn things that were previously uncomfortable for you — like painting a picture when you never thought you were artistic or creative — the situation requires your brain to work differently than it has before,” says Flowerday. “When your brain has to fire on all cylinders, including ones you’ve not really used, that’s one of the best ways to maintain brain health.”