Maye Musk, a woman who always makes a plan

Which may take her to Mars, says Musk, mother of Elon, who was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of the Free State this week

16 April 2023 - 00:01
By Claire Keeton
Maye Musk, Elon Musk's mother, was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein this week.
Image: Michael Walker Maye Musk, Elon Musk's mother, was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein this week.

Nutritionist, model, speaker and author Maye Musk — mother of Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, SpaceX and Twitter — was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein on Wednesday for her contribution to the field of dietetics. 

“I’m Dr Musk,” she said with a smile, after gliding into the Cape Grace Hotel on Cape Town's V&A Waterfront yesterday for an interview about her book, A Woman Makes a Plan: Advice for Lifetime of Adventure, Beauty, and Success before flying home to New York. “It was a most moving ceremony. I was tearing up.” 

Musk defies age stereotypes — she made the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition magazine last year at 74 years old, and will celebrate her 75th birthday on Wednesday. Disguised in a hoodie, she will walk her rescue dog Del Rey before jetting off to a shoot in Santorini, Greece, and then move on to Cannes in France. 

“I've just spent two weeks in China on a seven-city book tour where I sold half-a-million books. The week before that I was in Milan, Paris and Dubai,” says the energetic nutritionist. “I want to promote dietetics as a profession. There are too many fad diets and quacks out there.

“I have no problem with ageing. My mom worked until she was 96 and nobody told her she was too old,” said Musk, who is active on social media including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. “You have to be relevant, confident and stylish, and you can share wise words as you get older.”

Maye Musk has promoted the science of dietetics and healthy living, wellness and nutrition and reaches lots of people through her platform as a model, speaker and writer. She has made a major contribution that impacts society and changes peoples’ lives
Prof Francis Peterson, vice-chancellor, University of the Free State

Musk grew up with adventurous parents from Canada. They moved to South Africa, and flew a single-engine plane around the world. As children Maye, her twin sister and other siblings slept outdoors in the central Kalahari where lions and hyenas roamed. 

“My dad wanted us to learn how to rough it. His motto was: ‘Live dangerously, carefully'.” 

The resilience she learnt young helped her when raising three children as a single parent. “I was working most of the time and the kids were responsible for themselves. They were good kids ... They would walk to school and take the bus, and I never checked their homework,” she said. 

“We slept on floors and couches depending on where we were, and still do,” said Musk, who declined to talk about her famous children — Elon, Tosca and Kimbal.  

“They work too hard, but we always have fun when we are together. We laugh a lot. We have a South African sense of humour which Americans [don’t understand] as they think you have no confidence if you are self-deprecating.” 

Musk did not think her life story was worth a book when first approached. “I didn’t want to write a book. Then my kids said you have got to talk about your struggles.” 

When she was younger, Musk exited an abusive marriage to the father of her children. “At the time I was stuck in a bad space but 'n boer maak 'n plan, a woman makes a plan. It has been like that my whole life,” says Musk, who has moved cities and started from scratch several times.

She wanted to excise the sad times from her book but her literary agent convinced her they belonged there and people would relate to them. Musk hopes the book will motivate people to pursue happiness.

The Edit/Fashion & Beauty
Women are going grey. Get over it
1 year ago

“If you are happy, carry on with what you are doing. If sometimes you are unhappy, make a list of what you want to change and try to move from an unhappy to a happy situation,” she advised. 

Before Musk left her unhappy marriage, she gained 30kg, becoming the first plus-size model in South Africa. “I could eat fried chicken, a tub of ice cream and a huge bar of chocolate.” 

But she dropped the weight in eight months after a doctor warned her that her cholesterol was high, and her knees and back were hurting. When it comes to nutrition, Musk said she follows scientific evidence and common sense. 

“I’m a flexitarian (primarily vegetarian with occasional meat dishes) but the Mediterranean diet has the most evidence for reducing chronic disease.  

“I tell people, enjoy food more and stop relying on supplements. People have become terrified of bread and fruit,” said Musk, who has stayed lean for 41 years. 

She lost more weight when she caught Covid and lost her appetite. Her first modelling shoot after she recovered was in Rome, when Italy was just opening up after lockdown.  

Pandemic restrictions prevented Musk from promoting her book, published in 2019, around the world, but she has a whirlwind schedule now, limiting family engagements. 

“In the beginning I would go to all the rocket launches, the Tesla launches, the PassionFlix premieres ... but now I’m travelling a lot.

“Tosca is going to a rocket launch this week,” said Musk, who will not have time during her fleeting stop home. 

Of her 12 grandchildren, she said: “I love them and they love me but I’m not hands-on. I do not spoil them with gifts. I spoil them with hugs.”  

Would she go to Mars? “If my grandchildren go, I will too.”