People Whose Hobbies Changed Their Lives — and Legacies

Anna Robertson Moses had always wanted to paint, but between work, married life and children, there was never time — until she was 76, that is, and, at the suggestion of one of her sisters, she picked up a brush “to keep busy and to pass the time away.”

Four years later, as Anna embarked into her 80s, her artwork was the subject of a solo show in Manhattan, and Grandma Moses, a nickname bestowed upon her by the New York Herald Tribune, was born.

The story of Grandma Moses is one of the sharpest examples of a hobbyist whose life was  transformed by her hobby, but it’s not the only one.

Here’s a look at six other people we know today because of the passions they pursued.

1. Ernestine Shepherd

As her own Website tells it, Shepherd was a “sedentary, well-padded school secretary and ‘slug’” in her mid-50s, when she and her sister, Velvet, decided to join a gym. When Violet unexpectedly passed away, a crushed Shepherd stopped her workouts. When she resumed, the self-described Sylvester Stallone fan did so with a fervor worthy of a Rocky movie. In 2010, at age 73, Shepherd was named the world’s-oldest-performing female bodybuilder by Guinness World Records. “I tell everybody that age is nothing but a number,” Shepherd told People on the occasion of her 80th birthday in 2016. “And if there ever was an anti-aging pill, it would have to be exercise. My whole life has changed. It has changed for the better.”

1. Julia Margaret Cameron

In 1863, photography was a maturing, nearly quarter-century-old art and hobby when Cameron was gifted with her first camera by her daughter and son-in-law. The 48-year-old was smitten. A year later, the London woman joined the Royal Photographic Society, then known as the Photographic Society, and despite being dismissed by her fellow, mostly male club members, she remained smitten. “From the first moment I handled my lens with a tender [ardor], and it has become to me as a living thing,” Cameron wrote. Over the next decade-plus, until her death at age 63, Cameron went on to photograph the likes of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, fellow poet Robert Browning, and evolutionist Charles Darwin. Today, Cameron’s work is viewed as an essential record of the 19th century, and Cameron herself as, per the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “one of the greatest portraitists in the history of photography.”

3. Orville Rogers

During World War II, Rogers trained bomber pilots. During the Korean War, he flew missions in a B-36. Back in civilian life, he worked as a commercial pilot with Braniff for 31 years. And that was just his opening act. In the late 1960s, at age 51, he read a fitness book called Aerobics, and took up running. From there he was off and you-know-what. The Dallas resident completed his first marathon at 57, and at age 90, two weeks after the death of his wife, competed at his first national track meet, where, per his Website, he established two world-record times, en route to a spate of titles he holds to date. In 2017, at age 99, he published a memoir, entitled, appropriately, The Running Man. He’s 100 now, and still burning up the track. “I live life with a capital L,” he once put it.

4. Julia Child

Thanks to Child’s long-running presence on PBS, and the Oscar-nominated film, Julie & Julia, you may know the basics of the Child story: the middle-aged wife of a U.S. diplomat who becomes enamored of French food while living abroad, and, upon cowriting Mastering the Art of French Cooking, published the year she turned 49, broadens the palates of meat-and-potato Americans of the mid-20th century. But you may not know that it was a club, Le Cercle des Gourmettes, that helped fuel Child’s passion for French cooking, and set her on her new course. “She had never known so many women to whom she felt kin,” Laura Shapiro wrote in the biography, Julia Child: A Life, “and she identified herself as a Gourmette with pride.”

5. Ida Keeling

Like her fellow track star, Orville Rogers, Keeling is a centuranan, an author (of the memoir, Can’t Nothing Bring Me Down) — and an inspiration. Keeling was 67, and mourning the deaths of her two adult sons just two years apart when her track-coach daughter suggested she try a 5K. “Running felt so good,” she said in Parade. “I would come home after exercising and felt like it relieved me of some stress and bad feelings.” Keeling kept at it, and then some. In 2016, she set a world-record time for a 100-year-old in the 100-meter dash, and marked the occasion by doing pushups. This past summer, at age 103, she was recognized by ESPN with an honorary ESPY Award. “I was just exercising, and now I’m all over the world,” she told Runner’s World.

6. Peter Mark Roget

Roget was a British doctor who enjoyed writing, and, according to the University of Edinburgh, his alma mater, sought to keep a lifelong depression at bay with obsessive “list-making, [categorization] and classification.”  While in his 60s and retired, he began to turn these lists into a book — a book that would categorize and classify words as never before. At age 73, in 1852, he produced the first edition of Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so to Assist in Literary Composition. The tome, now known simply as Roget’s Thesaurus, has remained in print ever since.

So, where will your passion take you? To the medal stand, to the fine-art museum, to the best-seller list? As long as you let it take you somewhere worthwhile, that’s what matters.