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Second-act adventures

Life only gets more exciting for Massachusetts woman

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January 22nd, 2015
Brooksby resident Dorothy Stephens (right) and her daughter Laurie discovered a shared passion for long-distance cycling.
Brooksby resident Dorothy Stephens (right) and her

For longtime Massachusetts resident Dorothy Stephens, retirement has been one adventure after another.

“I’ve started to do more and more exciting things as I’ve gotten older,” says Dorothy, who recently published her first novel at age 90.

Fire and Ice, the young adult imprint of Melange Books released A Door Just Opened in September 2014.

“I was an elementary school teacher,” says Dorothy. “I started writing when I retired in 1986.”

A blossoming second career

A Door Just Opened is a historical tale set on a New Jersey farm in 1910. It follows Anna, a young girl who longs to go to high school. When Anna’s sister is assaulted and has a child, Anna is forced to lay aside her dreams to help her family. The story has its roots in Dorothy’s own history.

“My mother’s older sister had a child in her teens,” says Dorothy. “I didn’t learn of it until I was in my fifties, and even then, there wasn’t much talk about the incident. So while the story’s premise contains some truth, the rest comes from my imagination.”

The book marks Dorothy’s first foray into the world of fiction. She’s spent the past three decades as a freelance nonfiction writer, a second career she came by unexpectedly.

Dorothy and her late husband Bob lived in their Marblehead, Mass., home for 43 years following an overseas adventure early in their marriage.

“Bob was in the Foreign Service and worked in Nairobi, Kenya, from 1957 to 1959,” says Dorothy. “In 1987, we took a trip back to Kenya. I contacted the editor of the Marblehead Reporter to see if he wanted me to bring back any photos or brochures.”

The editor of the Marblehead Reporter suggested Dorothy contact Jerry Morris, travel editor at the Boston Globe.

“I called Jerry Morris,” says Dorothy. “He told me to take lots of pictures, collect brochures and maps, and write up our trip when we got home. I did, and he published it. That was the beginning of my freelance career. I kept writing because I loved it.”

Since her first article appeared in the Boston Globe in 1987, Dorothy’s work has appeared in numerous national magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Larcom Review, and Adventure Cycling.

Adventure on two wheels

“Cycling is another late-in-life adventure,” says Dorothy. “Can you believe I started riding after I turned 70?”

In 1994, Dorothy and Bob were traveling to California to visit their youngest daughter Laurie when Dorothy struck up a conversation with a shuttle driver who moonlighted as a bike tour leader. 

“I was envious of all the places he’d seen on a bike and thought it sounded like fun,” says Dorothy. “I told Laurie I’d like to go on a bike tour. She said she’d join me if I decided to go for it.”

Dorothy and Bob returned from California just as winter’s chill settled over Massachusetts.

“I forgot all about the bike tour,” says Dorothy. “But then Bob and our children gave me a bike for my 71st birthday the following February. When the ice melted, I took the bike down to our local yacht club parking lot to practice. I was wobbly and exhausted after 15 minutes.”

Dorothy kept at it, and by the fall, she was riding eight to ten miles at a time. The following summer, Dorothy and Laurie completed a five-day tour across Prince Edward Island, riding up to 25 miles a day. For the next eight years, Dorothy took a bike trip every year, traversing parts of Canada, California, England, and Italy.

“I started writing about my bike trips and published several articles in Adventure Cycling,” says Dorothy. “Long-distance cycling became a passion of mine. I felt young and free on a bike.”

New chapter

In 2012, Dorothy and Bob moved to EricksonLiving community in Peabody, Mass.

“We looked at retirement communities in Southern Maine, New Hampshire, and all across Massachusetts,” says Dorothy. “Brooksby offered all the amenities we needed, including an indoor swimming pool, fitness center, bank, salon, convenience store, restaurants, medical center, and pharmacy. Plus we had the added assurance of knowing that our health care needs could be met right on campus.”

The couple availed themselves of Brooksby’s continuum of care when Bob fell ill and passed away in 2013.

“I spent a great deal of time taking care of Bob,” says Dorothy. “When he passed away, I threw myself into my writing.”

Like many things in life, Dorothy says persistence is the key to overcoming obstacles.

“You have to persevere in publishing,” she says. “Once I finished the manuscript for A Door Just Opened, I sent it to various publishing houses. Eventually, it found the right home.”

Not afraid to try

Now Dorothy is working on a second novel from her writing perch in her two-bedroom, two-bath Manchester-style apartment with a balcony overlooking the pond.

“Brooksby has all the amenities I need to continue to live an active life,” says Dorothy. “I use the indoor swimming pool year-round, I ride the stationary bike in the fitness center, and I go for walks around the community.”

Dorothy also belongs to the Unitarian Universalism Council at Brooksby, she sings in the choir at her church in Marblehead, and she belongs to a writer’s group and book club in Marblehead.

“In many ways, life has become more interesting as I’ve gotten older,” says Dorothy. “I found courage to try things I never thought I could do. It’s been quite an adventure.”

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