August 22, 2019

The Late Bloomer

Eileen Greene; Photo courtesy of Richard Greene

Eileen Greene, 90

It’s never too late to take on something new. Just ask Brentwood resident Eileen Greene, who became a TEDx speaker at the age of 87.

A woman who got her start in many ways a little later in life than most, the mother of three, grandmother of six and soon-to-be great-grandmother graduated from college at 49 and received her master’s degree and had a bat mitzvah at 75. 

Not one to rest on her laurels, Greene said she still has plenty to say and a lot left to do, which is why she’s currently planning her next TED Talk. 

“We’re all going to go, some of us sooner than later,” Greene said. “And it’s OK to mourn them, it’s OK to cry. But it’s not OK to make that your life. Because while you are still here, you have an opportunity to contribute.”

When Greene did her first TED Talk in 2016 about her choices later in life, she received a standing ovation. 

In 1948, when she was 19, Greene quit college to become a wife and mother. And although she took courses and did design jobs, it was never quite enough. One night after playing mah-jong with some friends, Greene came to the conclusion that there had to be more stimulating things she could do. So she decided to spend one evening a week taking classes toward her degree. After studying at Santa Monica College, UCLA and Cal State Northridge, she gathered her credits and finally received her Bachelor of Arts degree at age 49.

 “It is never too late, except when it is. What are your coulda shoulda wouldas?”

Determined to keep learning, Greene took a two-year certification program in Human Services at the University of Judaism and studied to become a clinical hypnotherapist at the age of 70. 

Her 15-year-old granddaughter, who had said she did not want to become bat mitzvah, agreed to do so if Greene did, too. “Much to her surprise and chagrin,” Greene said, “I smiled, looked at her and said, ‘Yes. Let’s do it.’ ” 

Born three months before the 1929 Wall Street crash, Greene was quarantined when she contracted polio in 1935 and was subject to religious discrimination growing up. Yet she remains grateful for everything. 

“How I approach life is [that I’m] very proud of my Jewish heritage,” she said. 

Greene speaks fondly of her parents and grandparents, and the values she places on family togetherness. She still hosts holiday dinners in her home. These days, though, her family brings the food.

Her desire to serve and her ability to inspire others is a combination of where Greene came from and who she is.

“It is never too late, except when it is,” she notes at the end of her TED Talk. “What are your coulda shoulda wouldas? No matter your age, make your list, pick one and do it now.”