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RIP Frank McCourt: The Promise of Old Age

I was very saddened to hear that author Frank McCourt died yesterday at the age of 78. McCourt’s best-selling memoir of his poverty-striken...

I was very saddened to hear that author Frank McCourt died yesterday at the age of 78. McCourt’s best-selling memoir of his poverty-striken childhood in Ireland – Angela’s Ashes – received the Pulitzer Prize in 1997 and stayed on the New York Times Best-Seller’s List for 117 weeks, including 23 at number 1.

But the most inspiring thing about McCourt was not just that he overcame an objectively “miserable childhood” – featuring an unemployed, alcoholic father, a life-threatening illness of his own and the death of several siblings – to achieve international literary recognition. What’s inspiring about McCourt is that he published this memoir when he was 66 years old.

I remember once reading an interview with McCourt back when the book first came out in which he admitted that while he’d sat down to tell his life’s story several times, it was only at age 66 that he finally found his voice.

And he’s not alone. Increasingly, old age seems to be a phase of life when people not only discover new talents or take on new hobbies (on that note, be sure to visit my favorite jokes website), but actually flourish professionally. I recently got an email from a friend who told me that her mother – a scientist  – who recently died felt that she’d done her best work in her sixties. Then there’s architect Frank Gehry who just celebrated his 80th birthday and is still going strong.

A recent study by the Pew Research center on aging in the United States found that most adults over age 50 feel at least 10 years younger than their actual age. Older adults also said they had experienced the negative aspects of aging — including illness, loneliness and financial difficulty — far less often than younger people anticipated.

As I begin to feel those creaky aches and pains and watch as both my kids crush me in Monopoly, it’s tempting to conclude that I’ve reached the beginning of the end. But people like Frank McCourt remind us all that there’s always more life ahead.

Thank goodness for that.

*****

If you’d like to hear my rant about that newest American rage – the all-pet airline – head on over to PoliticsDaily.com.

Image: Frank McCourt by Irish Philadelphia Photo Essay via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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  1. Mara Paredes July 20, 2009 at 5:52 pm #

    I’m so sad as well. I didn’t know he died. About ten days ago I watched the movie “Angela’s ashes” for the third or fourth time and immediately I looked for information about him and, as you explain, it was a surprise for me he began to write so “late”. His story is one we MUST tell to our kids as an example of overcoming in life. At least, I’ve done so with mine.

  2. LPC July 20, 2009 at 6:04 pm #

    I remember that book vividly. Guess I have 14 years before I publish my memoir huh? But it’s probably too late to go acquire a colorful childhood.

  3. Patricia July 20, 2009 at 6:56 pm #

    My daughter was so saddened by McCourt’s death she called me right away to let me know…
    I am turning 60 in August and just feel like the best is yet to come. I keep in mind from all my years of teaching Developmental Psyche that the peak of creativity is between the ages of 65-70 for women.

    I think I am gaining a new voice from blogging practice too.

    Thank you for this good post…nice thinking

    • delialloyd July 20, 2009 at 8:46 pm #

      totally agree about blogging. I’m now looking forward to that 60-75 zone!

  4. Kathy | Virtual Impax July 20, 2009 at 8:20 pm #

    I remember when Angela’s Ashes was first published – mostly because I remember being captivated by McCourt’s story. I mean – it’s one thing to take up writing in your “golden” years – it’s quite another to win a Pulitzer prize for it!!!

    Talk about a “from rags to riches” tale – Frank McCourt’s life was one. I am saddened to hear of his passing. He was only 78 – which for some reason doesn’t sound quite as old as it once did.

  5. an old friend July 21, 2009 at 10:44 am #

    What great timing. I’m afraid – very afraid – I just turned 45.

    p.s. Frank Lloyd Wright was 89 when he designed the Guggenheim Museum, his greatest masterpiece.

  6. daryl boylan September 28, 2009 at 8:25 pm #

    Belatedly — Frank McCourt was not only a gifted story-teller but also an inspiration to a contemporary like me to get off my rear and keep working!

  7. daryl boylan September 28, 2009 at 8:26 pm #

    I just did respond, but again: Frank McC. was not only a gifted story-teller but a prod to a contemporary like me to get off my rear and do it!

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