Time 100: The 50+ You Should Know

Major General Margaret Woodward

Paging through this year's TIME 100 list, I figured I'd see the usual suspects. Heads of state - 61-year-old Benjamin Netanyahu, German prime minister Angela Merkel, and familiar names - Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, John Boehner. Nearly half are over 50!

You may know of Arianna Huffington (who's 60! Really!) and Sting, but what do you know of John Lasseter's work heading Pixar? Or if Jennifer Egan's cheekbones are really as stunning as they appear on her book jackets? I'd heard of the Koch brothers, who at 70 and 75 get called "tycoons", but never Katsunobu Sakurai, a mayor in Japan whose outspoken activism in the aftermath of the tsunami earns him a spot.

I confess, I spent a few more minutes than necessary reading about Colin Firth (what? Ladies, you understand!) but I also paused on the colorful Sergio Marchionne (Chrysler's CEO), and the intense hair of author George R. R. Martin. The whole list made me want to read more - starting with Jonathan Franzen, who at 51 garners attention every time he hints at releasing a book. Activists over 50 I'd never heard of were all over this list - I read about Geoffrey Canada's school reform work, EPA chief Lisa Jackson, Planned Parenthood leader Cecile Richards, and Ray Chambers' "Malaria No More" project.

China's rising stars over 50 included Xi Jinping, the reform-minded heir apparent to its Presidency, 58-year-old journalist Hu Shuli, artist Ai Weiwei, and its minister of defense Liang Guanglie. I knew of Indian scientist V.S. Ramachandran, whose neuroscience work is so legendary that freshman Psychology 101 students hear of it. I didn't know of Indian activist Aruna Roy, who at 64 is making her voice heard far outside India, or Azim Premji, an Indian philanthropist.

You know of Netflix, of the European Central Bank, and JP Morgan Chase, but you may not know about 50-year-old Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, of Jean-Claude Trichet's power at the Euro bank, or Jamie Dimon, the guy who kept JP Morgan Chase viable - or at least, that's what Time tells me. You may know of the book "What to Expect When You're Expecting," but who's the woman who wrote pregnancy out in such clear, simple terms? 52-year-old Heidi Murkoff just wanted to explain the things no one ever told her, not write a book that would live on the New York Times bestseller book for the last decade.

The ones I'm bookmarking, though, are the women I'd never heard of. Rebecca Eaton, as executive producer of PBS' Masterpiece, is squeezing amazing art out of one of television's longest running programs; Bineta Diop is tirelessly working for gender parity in African states like Congo and Burundi. (Okay, I did know who Patti Smith was.) But I, a girl who grew up wanting to fly planes for the Air Force, had to pause on Major General Margaret Woodward. Look, this was the early 80's. No one was used to women flying military planes. But she did, tankers and all, and for 11 days just a bit ago, she ran the air war in Libya. And when the TIME photographer caught her, she grinned, ear to ear, in her Air Force flight suit behind her desk. Go, girl.

(Photo: RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany - Ugandan People's Defence Air Force Chief Major General Jim Owoyesigire (left) shakes the hand of Major General Margaret Woodward, commander of 17th Air Force (Air Forces Africa), during his visit to 17th Air Force (Air Forces Africa) and Team Ramstein November 10, 2010. Photo via USAFRICOM.)

Search AARP Blogs