It’s not surprising that Jean Carper ’53 is brimful of life and vitality. The author of 24 books—many of them on the ways that diet and lifestyle affect health and longevity—Carper practices what she preaches—and loves the life she’s carved out for herself.
“When I left Ohio Wesleyan I didn’t know what to do—and what I did do is always an amazing surprise to me,” Carper says. “What I learned rather young, however, is that I’m constitutionally unable to stay in a job that doesn’t make me happy. Of course, like all people, I had to do some things I wasn’t crazy about to make a living, but what I’ve found out is that success comes from finding something you really love to do and sticking to it. When I tried to do something I didn’t like, I ended up quitting or getting fired.”
Carper’s father died when she was a junior at OWU, “leaving my mother with five children under the age of 19,” Carper says. “It wasn’t easy for her, so after graduation, I took a job as a file clerk in a collection agency. My employers decided I was overqualified to be a file clerk, and they promoted me to work on the phones. That wasn’t their wisest decision, because as I listened to people struggling with debt, my compassion kept getting in the way, and I’d find myself saying, ‘Oh, don’t worry about that bill.’ Needless to say, they fired me.”
Her writing career didn’t get off to the most illustrious start either, Carper says. “Writing wasn’t easy. I had rejection after rejection of articles I wrote. It wasn’t until 1962 that I finally had an article in a major magazine, The Saturday Evening Post. Then I had many articles published by Reader’s Digest. For them, I wrote full-length articles, and they condensed them. But even after I had four major bestsellers, one of my book proposals was rejected 13 times.”
Obviously, things looked up, and Carper began to follow the path she defines as successful: the writing that made her one of the nation’s go-to experts in health, nutrition, and medicine. “Success to me is that publishers and broadcasters around the world allowed me—and actually paid me—to pester the world’s leading authorities about their latest discoveries in medicine and nutrition and pass it on to millions of people via books, magazines, newspaper columns, radio, TV and the Internet,” she says. “Sometimes I think someone right now somewhere may be feeling better or escaping or postponing a heart attack or cancer or diabetes because of a small fact or bit of advice in one of my writings.”
Carper’s latest project is producing a documentary that offers the latest information about the puzzle of Alzheimer’s disease. She carries the major gene for Alzheimer’s (APOE4), but tests so far show no signs of the disease. She is also author of 100 Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer’s and Age-Related Memory Loss, published in 2010. “The brain changes found in Alzheimer’s begins much earlier in life than we might suspect, long before symptoms appear, so the most important thing we can do is to delay the onset of those symptoms for as long as possible. Many of the actions we can take to prevent or slow down Alzheimer’s also help prevent heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Good health habits benefit the whole body.”
Carper credits OWU faculty for some of her success. “Professors Diem and Hunter in the speech department were big influences,” she says. “We were state champions in debate, and debate preparation under Dr. Diem was rigorous. He was a stickler for presenting the strongest case in the most logical manner. His insistence on that kind of presentation helped me learn to organize material in the most logical and compelling way. Dr. Ruth Davies was inspiring in writing. When I graduated and didn’t know exactly what I was going to do, I thought maybe I could be a writer because of what I had learned from her.”
Carper’s passion for what she does burns brightly. “In the end,” she says, “I did it all to make myself happy. I cannot imagine having more fun, or more curious adventures, following the twisting trails of medical knowledge with access to world-class tutors feeding my mind.
“So what if I often saw the sun set and come up again while I sat in front of a typewriter or computer?” she continues. “Or that my obsessive-compulsive love affair with entertaining my mind made me forget to get married or have children? I probably could not have done it any other way—at least as successfully.
“I have to say,” she concludes, “that I never really thought of financial rewards. I did what was the most fun and made me the happiest—and the success followed along. Of course I had my disappointments, but I know I’ve been very lucky.”