Gail Sheehy, the journalist, commentator, and pop sociologist whose best-selling Passages helped millions navigate their lives from early adulthood to middle age and beyond, has died at age 83, per the AP. Sheehy, widow of New York magazine founder Clay Felker, died Monday of complications from pneumonia in Southampton, New York, according to her daughter, Maura Sheehy. Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life was published in 1976 and immediately caught on with a generation torn by the cultural revolution of the time, sorting through mid-life struggles, marital problems, changing gender roles, and questions about identity. As Sheehy noted in the book’s foreword, close studies of childhood and old age were widely available, but far less scrutiny had been given to the prime years of work and relationships.
“It occurred to me that what Gesell and Spock did for children hadn’t been done for us adults,” Sheehy wrote. “The greatest surprise of all was to find that in every group studied, whether men or women, the most satisfying stages in their lives were the later ones,” she wrote. “Simply, older is better.” A 1991 survey conducted for the Library of Congress and the Book-of-the-Month Club ranked Passages among the books that most influenced people’s lives. Sheehy herself acknowledged shortcomings, notably that there was much to say about life after age 50. She would continue with The Silent Passage (menopause), New Passages (life after 50), Understanding Men’s Passages (a midlife resource for men) and Passages in Caregiving (caring for family members). Sheehy told her own story in the 2014 memoir Daring: My Passages. (Read more obituaries.)