Rowan himself isn’t exactly typical: He has been blessed with unusual fortitude, a strong constitution and an enviable run of good luck. He came of age at a time when jobs (remember those?) were relatively plentiful, and when educated middle-class wives sublimated their own ambitions to advance their husbands’ careers. (At one point, after she had prepared a home-cooked dinner for Rowan and his colleagues—Luce among them—“Helen opted to serve and not sit,” he tells us, in a phrase that seems all too metaphorical.)
Rowan retired from Time Inc. in 1985 at the age of 65, then made an apparently seamless transition from full-time employment to an independent writing career. His post-retirement writing projects have combined sheer enjoyment (indulging his love of baseball by following the careers of two minor-league pitchers) with useful risk (living as a homeless man to write about homelessness). “I have long been intrigued with what gives some individuals the strength and persistence to overcome devastating experiences,” he writes, “while others are totally unable to cope.”
To Roy Rowan’s manifold attributes, add outlier: Not everyone will be in a position, physically or financially, to follow his advice — or his example (he bought a new car at 90). But as my late mother, likewise ferociously optimistic to the end, would have said: “May he drive it in good health.”
Julia M. Klein is a cultural reporter and critic in Philadelphia and a contributing editor at Columbia Journalism Review.