Mother of invention

Tuesday, November 5th, 2019

Apparently the Economist has an offshoot 1843 magazine, which profiled Elon Musk’s mother, naming her the mother of invention:

Musk, a striking woman with cropped white hair, glowing skin and brilliant blue eyes, does not mince her words. As a dietician she has no truck with fads. As a mother — of Elon, the world’s most famous inventor, Kimbal, a tech and food entrepreneur, and Tosca, a film director who recently started a streaming service to bring romance novels to television — she has a similarly robust attitude.

Unlike most women of her generation — she is 69 — maternity has not defined Maye. She has run her own nutrition business for 45 years and has been a model for 54 years. In an era in which parents and children are ever more closely intertwined as they navigate the hazards of competitive education, she has a refreshing enthusiasm for her and her children’s independence.

Thanks to business’s growing enthusiasm for older models, she seems to be getting more, not less, successful. She has been on a cereal box, featured in a Beyoncé video and starred in a campaign for Virgin America. Once you have seen her unusual face, you find yourself recognising it in adverts.

Maye Musk

Maye’s own childhood was not a standard one. Family holidays were often spent flying over the Kalahari desert in Namibia in her father’s single-engine plane — “mostly airsick” — looking for a legendary lost city. The plane was her father’s passion, not a rich man’s toy: her parents were not wealthy but she remembers a home with mulberry trees, peaches, plums, oranges and lemons. At schools she was a “science nerd”, and teachers would send her to demonstrate mathematics to classes of older children. Her brains made her a magnet for bullies — South Africa was a rough place — but her larger and more athletic twin, Kaye, fought them off.

Independence came early, thanks to her striking features. She was modelling at 15 but expected the work to dry up by 18, so she studied dietetics. By 21 she had her own practice.

A year later, in 1970, she married an engineer, Errol Musk. Elon arrived nine months later, Kimbal arrived about a year after that, and not long after came a daughter, Tosca.

Maye’s marriage lasted nine years. After the divorce, she took the children and started on her own as a single, working mother. Money was particularly tight. The family couldn’t afford many things, such as eating out and movies. Maye managed by juggling her private practice as a dietician, wellness talks and modelling.


Left to explore the world for themselves, each child spontaneously developed strong — and very different — interests. Elon was an obsessive reader and thinker from an early age, so absorbed in his own world that his parents thought he might have a hearing problem and took him to the doctor. Drawn to computers he sold his first computer program when was 12. He struggled to make friends at school and was badly bullied. But he developed strong, lifelong bonds with his brother and sister which, to this day, seem to serve as a stabilising influence in his life. After Thanksgiving, he posted a picture of himself and Kimbal in the Rockies, arms around each other with the message “love my bro”.

Tosca, too, had her enthusiasms lit at a young age. When she was four she watched the musical fantasy film “Xanadu”, which gave her a passion for movies. By the age of 18 she had landed a job in a studio and from there went on to become a film director. As for Kimbal, Maye recalls taking the children to a grocery store when the boys were in their early teens. “Elon would take a book and read. Tosca would hang around me, and Kimbal would be picking up the peppers and smelling them and saying ‘aaah’.”


Led by Elon, the brothers created home-made rockets and explosives. They raced their dirt bikes so hard that Kimbal fell into a barbed-wire fence. They walked door to door at night in a dangerous country selling Easter eggs at a scandalous mark-up: Kimbal told customers sceptical of the price, “you are doing this to support future capitalists.” They tried to start up a video arcade. Parental attention didn’t always point them in the right direction: their father took them to a casino (gambling was illegal).


  1. Redan says:

    “As a dietician she has no truck with fads.”

    At that point I stopped reading…

  2. Candide III says:

    She looks like the cyborg Director Kasei from Psycho-Pass.

  3. Graham says:

    Well, white South African notwithstanding, that doesn’t sound like an especially privileged upbringing [yes, I know the Afrikaners never were a uniformly overclass population and still aren't] but even so, how many of us get as children to fly around in dad’s private plane looking for a lost city?

    Her upbringing, with its combination of rooted and rootless, crossing of two cultures, early achievement, early loss, and ultimate high privilege based on a bedrock of family, sounds rather like Barack Obama’s up to a point.

    Given this glowing profile, I assume the Economist has at last given in to its Randian impulses. Though not all would admit it, I think global overclass values are Rand’s values. She does rather look like Dagny Taggart would end up looking.

  4. Sam J. says:

    “…how many of us get as children to fly around in dad’s private plane looking for a lost city?…”

    Older used small planes are cost wise like buying a a quality bass boat. His Dad was an engineer he chose planes over other stuff. I know a guy who owned a small Cessna and he wasn’t rich. He owned a diner and a gas station.

  5. Graham says:

    Not thinking just in terms of cost, though. Also just of what is and is not all that common an experience.

    By way of setting up the thesis that she had a quite unusual childhood, which may have shaped her child-rearing when her time came.

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