by Alice Ray Cathrall

I have made a decision, the sort of decision that some dread — one that involves change. Big change.

I quit my job and enrolled in art school.

Everyone said I was crazy. I was in my early 50s, at the pinnacle of my career in the insurance industry, when I made my decision. I was respected, valued, bored to tears and not the least bit concerned about inflation.

I was thinking about how to create value in the next phase of my life.
I had helped start three reinsurance companies capitalized at hundreds
of millions of dollars with U.S., French and British firms, so there
were lots of challenges to meet, along with plenty of travel. I also
had earned a master’s degree in literature from NYU to achieve a little
intellectual diversity. Life was interesting.

Insurance and reinsurance is not the least bit stuffy. It is all about transferring financial risk from one entity to another to promote public welfare through risk stabilization. For instance, it enables entrepreneurs to create new products or to provide insurance products at costs that can be shared and anticipated in personal and corporate budgets.

And it takes a risk taker, an entrepreneur who would rather risk failure than not take a chance of creating something of value.

So when I started to experience the transition of menopause, I viewed it as another change in life, and not a pejorative one, but more as a reminder to make good use of time and assets. How could I continue to create positive things? What could I do differently?

My parents are in their late 80s, and my dad just published a book on the history of his town. God willing, I hope to have some time on my hands. And, as exciting as my career had been up to this point, another deal would not suffice. These were my transitional stirrings.

Art was always a part of my life. One grandfather was an architect; grandmothers and aunts drew and created beautiful things. I was always encouraged to explore my creativity. So I carved out some time and began to draw and take classes around the area. I studied anatomy and figure drawing in graphite and charcoal, watercolor and still lifes, and I listened to artists talk about how they could create value and joy.

I took quite a few courses at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. It is the oldest art school in America and a venerable one, with a gorgeous collection. Cecilia Beaux, Mary Cassatt and Thomas Eakins studied or taught at PAFA. I submitted my portfolio and was accepted to study in their four-year certificate program this summer.

The decision to commit to the work and the great exploration of learning to see the world more clearly and to one day perhaps create something of transformative beauty was an irresistible challenge.

The decision was not a risk or midlife crisis, but a midlife decision to create a new future.

Alice Ray Cathrall is an artist living in Philadelphia. She recently retired as an executive vice president for a multinational reinsurance company.

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  • Ted Bach July 30, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    To be able to say goodbye to the mundane and pursue the dream is a beautiful thing.Alice …you are my hero and new found inspiration.

  • Deri White April 27, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    Dear Alice,
    I was inspired by you courage and your story firstly because it was similar to my own in that I studied art but financially dishearted I persuded a retail career until the age of 39 when I moved to Spain to consentrate on the art I’d given up 17 previously. Secondly because what inspired me to do so was gift of inheritence, a portrait from my Grandmother. The name of the artist was Alex Cathrall and it made me realise there could be some inherited talent within me that I’d ignored but she believed I was wasting. It’s something I am now determined to find my potential in and if you have time please look at my website. My maiden name is Cathrall I don’t know if we’re related but I know the surmane is unusal. Good luck with your work.

  • Marian Surrey-Mattera April 2, 2009 at 7:59 am


    I have always known you to be articulate, beautiful, intellegent, funny and strong but now to come to find out how literally inclined you are does not surprise me.

    Finding this site is a God send as I am approaching menopause at 47 years old and am looking down the barrel of a journey so many women before me have taken or are in the process of taking.

    Reading your article was like sunshine streaming through a window. Thanks and best of everything.


  • Mary Anne Morgan February 3, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    Bravo, Alice!
    Act I of your life was a rousing success! Now the cutain opens on Act II. Another brillliant performance is guaranteed. You are a truly Renaissance woman and an inspiration all who know you!

  • Jean April 4, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    Bravo for you Alice! You have always impressed me with your ability to take risk!!!
    Best wishes – Jean Tanzola (formally Rosario)

  • Dianne September 11, 2007 at 6:51 pm

    Terrific article! If you don’t make it as an artist, which is highly unlikely, you could have a great career as a writer! You are a wonderfully motivated woman!

  • Bobbie September 8, 2007 at 10:58 pm

    The “scat” girls are proud of you! You’ll be painting as well as you hit the 3 wood.