Healthy Aging,Healthy Living
by Laurie HerrMay 1, 2009
“Late bloomer” Valerie Ramsey didn’t let age—or health—keep her from reinventing herself.

On her first day of work at her dream job, Valerie Ramsey broke her foot. The second day, she learned she had uterine cancer. The third day, her doctor discovered a dangerous heart abnormality that required surgery.

Not an auspicious start for her first week as a public relations honcho at the famed Pebble Beach Resorts in Carmel, Calif. But Valerie, then 58, didn’t let the grim medical news stop her. “At first I thought, I’m down three for three—should I just retire and be a nanny to my grandkids?” she recalls. “But then I thought, no! I’ve worked too hard for this.”

Such a take-that attitude is typical for Valerie, a mother of six who didn’t even fill out a job application until her early 50s. After her kids were grown Valerie wanted her own career, so she took a job as a sales clerk in the resort’s golf shop. She worked her way up, learning “by osmosis” until she became public relations manager. She beat the uterine cancer (the same disease that killed both her mother and grandmother) and now lives with a heart defibrillator in her chest. “If you looked at me naked, you wouldn’t know it was there,” she jokes.
Valerie’s success story could end there—but it doesn’t. A film producer spotted her on the golf greens and, struck by her natural good looks, encouraged her to try modeling. “It sounded fun, so I thought, why not?” Valerie says. A San Francisco agency signed her up, and at 63 she launched yet another career. Now, Valerie does runway shows and has appeared in ads for Lexus and other companies.

After receiving countless emails from women inspired by her story, Valerie and her daughter, writer Heather Hummel, decided to co-author a book. Gracefully: Looking and Being Your Best at Any Age shares the wisdom Valerie’s learned over the years (see her tips, below). To Valerie, it’s all about staying healthy, and constantly looking ahead. “It’s not about physical beauty,” she says. “Aging gracefully means continually living a rich and fulfilling life. We’re never too old to chase our dreams.”

Does Heather take after her mom? In some ways, says the 43-year-old, who falls somewhere in the middle of the clan of six. “I’ve learned to take hold of opportunities, to think about what’s next,” Heather says.

There’s that catchphrase again: “what’s next.” It’s a question Valerie lives by. “If you open yourself up to the world and to people and possibilities,” she says, “it’s amazing what can fall into your lap—and what you can do for others.”