Photography-infused biography honors the long, creative life of the author’s mentor, Jacomena Maybeck

Pamela Valois writes about a life lived exuberantly into one’s winter years

BERKELEY, California –When Pamela Valois met her in the 1970s, Jacomena (Jackie) Maybeck was a model of zestful, hands-on living and aging, still tarring roofs and splitting logs in her seventies, and Pamela was a young working mother trying to carve out time for creative projects. Jackie became her mentor, and their friendship led to a best-selling book, “Gifts of Age,” published in 1985, that features portraits of Jackie and other exemplary women in the winters of their lives.

Decades later, after she and her husband bought Jackie’s home, Valois was struck with a newfound curiosity about her mentor’s fascinating life. What had shaped and supported Jackie in living exuberantly until her death at ninety-five? “Blooming in Winter” (She Writes Press, June 29, 2021) tells this tale—one that stretches from Java to a magical Berkeley house designed by Jackie’s father-in-law, renowned architect Bernard Maybeck. Valois’ loving portrait chronicles Jacomena’s early years as a Dutch immigrant and Northern California ranch girl and later as a Bay Area bohemian, mother of twins, ceramicist, widow, and ultimately steward of the Maybeck legacy. All along the way, Jackie lived with grace and originality.

Jacomena’s uncommon approach to life encourages us to reflect on our own lives. Readers will
empathize with her many challenges and be inspired to consider how our journeys may prepare us for our own winter years.

Praise for the author…

“Valois’ careful selection of quotes from Maybeck’s contradictory, ‘Rashomon-like’ diaries are employed to great effect, furthering the vision of a charming woman anyone would love to know…. [T]he account feels like a nostalgic conversation about a deeply loved, mutual friend. An engaging and detailed portrait of a 20th-century woman and the communities she tended.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“‘Blooming in Winter’ is the biography of a fascinating woman who managed to live her long life to the fullest…. Although Jackie is not famous outside of Northern California, this biography reveals her to be a woman worth knowing. In contemporary American society, which favors youthfulness, Jackie showed that… it’s never too late to begin something new.”
—Foreword Clarion Reviews

“Navigating widowhood and grappling with the onset of old age, Maybeck embraces her
independence and freely explores all artistic inquiries…. A reverential celebration of a feisty woman with a zest for growth, art, community, and dynamic living. This careful consideration of an extraordinary life emphasizes creative expression and the strength of womanhood.”
—BookLife Reviews

“it is the courage and faith with which all these women meet their individual challenges that ennobles their talent for living.”
—Ms. Magazine (for “Gifts of Age”)

“This handsome volume is a paean to older women… their attitudes toward aging are fascinating. Their stories are tales of strong wills and minds.”
—The Washington Post (for “Gifts of Age”)

“Blooming in Winter: The Story of a Remarkable Twentieth-Century Woman”
Pamela Valois | June 29, 2021 | She Writes Press | Nonfiction, Biography/Memoir
Paperback | ISBN: 978-1647421168 | $16.95

PAMELA VALOIS: Growing up in Sierra Madre, CA, Pamela Valois moved north to attend UC Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement. After almost flunking out due to political rallies, she returned to Los Angeles to become a dental hygienist. Then, with a solid part-time job, she became a quasi-hippie, selling macramé and her photos at weekend craft fairs. Pam got married on the lawn of Jacomena Maybeck’s Berkeley cottage and studied photography with Ruth Bernhard in San Francisco. Her book “Gifts of Age: Portraits and Essays of 32 Remarkable Women,” a bestseller inspired by Jacomena, was published in 1985. After mothering two sons, Pam earned a master’s degree and started a new career in health care. Now at age seventy-five, she’s been retired for ten years. She lives in Jacomena’s “High House” with her husband—it’s like a tree house, with redwoods, deer, and skunks as neighbors. For more information, please visit:

In an interview, Pamela Valois can discuss:

  • How she came to tell Jacomena Maybeck’s story
  • How Jacomena inspired her previous book, “Gifts of Age”
  • How Jacomena mentored her when she was in her thirties
  • What was special about her friendship with Jacomena, and why intergenerational friendships are so important
  • What it was like for Jacomena as she took care of her architect father-in-law Bernard Maybeck’s homes
  • How her friendship with Jacomena influenced her view on aging

An Interview with Pamela Valois

1. How did you come to write this story?

Living now in Jacomena’s unusual house, I had so many questions. She’d been a mentor to me in my thirties (when she was in her seventies) and we stayed close friends until she died at age 95 in 1996. I wanted to know what had shaped her and supported her in the many challenges she’d had—first as an immigrant, and later living on Nut Hill in Berkeley with the famous bohemian Maybeck family. My research began 5 years ago—with interviews, visits, phone calls, delving into her memoirs. I realized that her story would inspire others, particularly older women facing the challenges of aging and widowhood. Jacomena’s uncommon approach to life is a story that needs to be told now.

2. How did Jacomena inspire your previous book, “Gifts of Age”?

Jacomena’s friends, mostly in their seventies, seemed to be enjoying life—and perhaps even more than when they were younger and burdened with careers, children, and family responsibilities. I started doing photographic portraits and interviews with them hoping to create a book. “Gifts of Age,” co-authored with Charlotte Painter, was a bestseller at a time when many of us, though still in our thirties, were starting to think about our own aging and looking for role models of older women who were thriving in their winter years.

3. How did Jacomena mentor you when you were in your thirties?

My partner and I were considering getting married but had had ups and downs for 10 years. Something magical happened while we were living in Jacomena’s cottage across the street from her home. Life was simpler; Jackie taught us to savor a new blossom or make jam from the messy plum trees, and our worries seemed to melt in her grounded presence. We were married on her cottage lawn.

After I had my first son, I was working part-time, and I was frustrated creatively. Jackie suggested that I hire a babysitter for just 4 hours a week and during that time, I was to work only on photography—not taxes, grocery shopping, etc. And later in my fifties, she encouraged me to go back to school as she had done. We could talk about anything.

4. What do you think is valuable about intergenerational friendships?

One of the first things people ask me about “Gifts of Age” is, “How did you find those women?” I asked every woman I knew—many of us were in our thirties—do you know an older woman you admire? Most women had a special person, and talked about how their relationship had enriched their lives. The women in my book, all over age 65, were in a different season, and could add perspective to younger women’s issues as they were balancing career, family, and creative work. Jackie understood our concerns, and shared her own—such as how to add a handmade railing to her stairs so her “wobbly” friends could visit, or how to find a roommate now that she was a widow. She wanted to have friendships with men, even though she’d been a widow for decades. She reminded me of what a joy it is to write and receive a well-crafted letter.

5. What was it like for Jacomena to marry into the famous Maybeck family? And later, what was it like for her to care for the homes of her architect father-in-law, Bernard Maybeck?

Although she met her husband (Bernard Maybeck’s son) when she was only 10 years old,
and promised herself she’d marry him, when it came time to marry, she was ambivalent. She talks about this in my book. When she did marry, she found herself in a very tight-knit clan led by her mother-in-law with whom she differed on many things. Jackie was an independent soul, and often clashed with Mrs. Maybeck. The Maybecks built her family a house, then took it away. She never felt that her house was her own until the senior Maybecks were gone. And then she was suddenly widowed at age 61. Gradually, Jackie presided over the Maybeck legacy, writing books and taking care of the family houses (then rentals) on Nut Hill in Berkeley. This gave her a whole new project that brought her new relationships and a bit of fame.

6. You knew Jacomena when she was in her winter years. How did she cope with widowhood and growing older?

She said, “These years since Wallen died are like a tree that began to put out little leaves and blossoms where before, it was a bare tree.” She drew on her experience of growing up a ranch girl, and transformed the experience into an identity as a woman that included running electric cement mixers and cutting brush to keep warm. She relished roadwork and holding a grandchild at least as much as she did throwing a pot or writing a story. She changed how she thought of her ceramic work: “These days, I calibrate the work against the pleasure.” She no longer felt obligated to compete and make things that would look good in an exhibition. In her nineties, she said, “Make yourself placid and accepting. Sit in the sun with your hands folded. That’s a privilege too—a lot of people in the world never have that time.”

7. How did your friendship with Jacomena influence how you view aging?

When I was in my thirties and forties, aging looked far away, but seeing how Jackie met that season inspired me to make sure I enjoyed the work I was doing at that time in my life. Like her, I went back to school in my fifties, and I started a new career in health care. When I retired at age 65, she was gone, but I remembered things she did to structure her life. She kept a daily journal, did outside work daily, and created new friendships and new interests, like writing books. Now, at age 76, I’ve loved working on this book, “Blooming in Winter.” It’s brought me new relationships, new learning about writing and publishing, and a sense of value.

As I approach my eighties, I hope to re-start journaling, take more classes, and continue to follow Jackie’s advice about “Grandmother Gardening….A Grandmother Garden should have a couch and a chair to view the garden from….A Grandmother can weed and plant any flower bed as wide as her arm is long. Long-handled pointed hoes are great! Toy rakes! The very best pruning shears, and keep them sharp!”