From Single Mom to Supermodel: The Inspiring Story of Elon Musk's Mother
| LAST UPDATE 03/20/2023
Maye Musk may not be as well known as her eldest son, Elon Musk, but she has an impressive resume of her own. From being a single mother to a supermodel, Maye Musk has done it all. Here's her inspiring story.
Elon's #1 Supporter
Elon Musk has quite the resume. He is the CEO of Tesla, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, and the owner and CEO of Twitter. That's just the start. But one person has been cheering him on this whole time...
His mother, of course! Maye Musk has been a supportive figure for most of her son's life, but there is much more to her than just being the owner of Twitter's mom. She has had a life full of rich adventures and surprising twists and turns. Keep scrolling to learn about Maye Musk, the mom behind the visionary.
From Canada to Africa
Maye was born in Canada on April 19, 1948. She was one of five children born to her parents, Winnifred and Dr. Joshua Haldeman. Maye was also a twin! Her twin sister, Kaye, was always by her side. Maye's parents both owned their own businesses, her father had a chiropractic office, and her mother owned a dance studio.
It is clear to see where Elon's entrepreneurial spirit comes from! Then, when Maye and Kaye were only two years old, her parents decided it was time to pack up their things and life in Canada for a totally new experience. They moved to Pretoria, South Africa, in 1950. They were ready for the adventure of a lifetime.
Her parents had an airplane that they used to explore many destinations. According to The New York Times, the couple took the plane and traveled 22,000 miles across the world. They lived by their family motto, "Live dangerously - carefully." It was something that guided every decision they made.
Maye recalled in her memoir, A Woman Makes a Plan: Advice for a Lifetime of Adventure, Beauty, and Success, "I grew up in a family that had an airplane and a fascination for exploration. My parents flew across Canada, America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia in a small, canvas-covered propeller plane with no GPS or radio."
The Lost City
Every July in South Africa, which was winter, the Haldeman family would go to the desert and search for the Lost City of Kalahari. The fabled city was thought to be lost in the Kalahari desert in Africa. After reading Canadian explorer William Leonard Hunt's book about the lost city, Maye's father wanted to find it.
Musk wrote in her memoir, "When we were children, they took us on trips to the Kalahari Desert every winter to search for the lost city. Looking back, I realize it was dangerous to go across the desert with a compass and three weeks' supply of water and food with five kids."
Maye Musk was no stranger to the entrepreneurial spirit; it was instilled into her from a young age. She told Forbes, "... my brothers and sisters and I started working when we were about 8 years of age. We would do their monthly bulletins and photocopy newsletters, and then put the stamps on the envelopes."
By the time they were 12 years old, the twins were already earning a paycheck. They would work as receptionists for their dad's business before and after school. That strong work ethic was something that Maye would keep with her up until this very day.
Miss South Africa Contestant
Musk took her hard-working attitude and energetic spirit to the world of beauty. She participated in beauty pageants and was a strong competitor. In 1969, she was a finalist in the Miss South Africa beauty competition. So close to grabbing the crown!
Even though she didn't end up winning the coveted Miss South Africa title, Musk refused to let that stop her. She continued to be involved in the world of beauty as a model. Plus, she did all this while still studying in high school, beginning her modeling career at 15 years old.
Getting Her Degree
Her journey as a model began because of a simple request. According to the Daily Mail, a family friend had asked Musk to walk in a runway show and do some print work. Musk agreed, and she was hired! However, she wasn't sure how long a modeling career would last, so she decided to attend university.
Musk told Forbes, "I said, 'I don't wanna be the dumb blond, I'm going to study sciences, and I'm gonna pass it. Even if it's in another language.' And I did." She earned a bachelor's degree in dietetics. The course was taught in Afrikaans, so she had to learn a new language to finish her degree - talk about dedication!
High School Sweethearts
In high school, Maye Haldeman met a guy named Errol Musk, and the two dated on and off again. She wrote in her memoir, "He was good at math and science, better than me, and I didn't know many guys like that. And he kept saying that he wanted to marry me."
Eventually, the couple did end up getting married in 1970. Errol and Maye tied the knot only a few months after she graduated from university. Errol was working as an engineer at the time, but Maye, determined to use her degree and brain, kept pursuing a career.
A Full House
A year after getting married, the newlyweds welcomed their first child Elon to the world. Elon's little brother, Kimbal, was born a year later, and the couple had their first daughter, Tosca, two years after that. Very quickly, they went from being just the two of them to having a full house.
While she had all three children at home, Musk was still devoted to educating herself and advancing her career. She pursued her master's degree in dietetics from the University of the Orange Free State in South Africa. She was #girlbossing before the hashtag even existed!
Maye did it all. She was raising three children, all of whom were close in age to each other, all while taking care of the household. Musk was also working for her husband during the mornings by "typing his engineering specifications and doing his accounting," she wrote in her memoir.
That's not all: the mother of three was also operating her own business at the time! According to her book, she ran a "small private nutrition practice at their apartment," and modeled on the side for extra cash. Did she have time to sleep? That's up for debate.
'I Knew He Was a Genius'
Maye revealed that she knew her oldest son, Elon, was a genius when he was only a toddler. She told CBS This Morning, "Well at 3, I knew he was a genius, but you still don't know if he's going to do great things." What could she possibly mean by that?!
She continued to explain, "Because many geniuses end up in a basement being a genius but not applying it." She was worried that her son wouldn't use the smarts that he had. Fortunately, Elon had the Haldeman entrepreneurial instinct that Maye also had inherited.
Musk learned how to be self-sufficient during her childhood. She told CNBC Make It, "We were so independent and we were taught to be adventurous ourselves and to try all sorts of new things." When Maye became a mother, she passed down that same self-reliant spirit to her children.
"I was working long hours. They didn't see me much... Fortunately, I worked from home. I always had my practice at home and they just knew they had to behave, they had to do their own homework, and they had to make their own choices," she told CNBC Make It.
As she was establishing her career and being a mother to three, Maye decided she had to leave her husband. The working mom filed for divorce and asked for custody of her children. Maye and Errol were officially divorced in 1979, nine years after they said, "I do."
In her memoir, she revealed that there had been abuse in the marriage, which led her to seek a divorce. After the marriage was dissolved, Maye Musk took her three children and moved to the coastal town of Durban. They were ready to begin a new life together.
Staying With Dad
Their new life was difficult, but they always made the best of the situation. Musk wrote in her book, "So we lived in a small apartment, more than once. So my children and I ate a lot of peanut butter sandwiches. So we had a lot of bean soup. So what? We loved each other. We had a lot of fun together. That's what matters."
The fun times came to an end, though. One day, a teenage Elon told his mom he was moving to live with his father. His younger brother joined him. The youngest Tosca, who stayed with her mom, told The New York Times, "I think, at the end of the day, she [Maye] was very hurt."
There were many political changes happening in South Africa when Elon finished high school. So, he decided to pursue his college education on the other side of the world: back in Canada. Since his mother was born in Canada, getting a passport was no big deal for the future billionaire.
Maye helped her eldest son buy a ticket and gave him the number of a relative who still lived there. Elon kept asking his mom to join him in Canada. Although she had been accepted into a Ph.D. program in Cape Town, Maye agreed to tour universities in Canada.
Giving Everything Up
Although the idea of moving back to Canada was intriguing, Maye felt she was finally established in South Africa. But after discovering her youngest sold all her possessions, it seemed the decision had been made for her. Musk wrote, "All I had to do was sign the papers, and it was done. We left the country a few weeks after that."
Due to strict South African laws, Maye couldn't take her money to Canada, so she was forced to start from scratch. She had to bust her butt to make ends meet as they resettled in Toronto, Ontario. Musk told Forbes, "I had five jobs." Eventually, the work paid off, and Musk had a thriving business and modeling career.
Time passed in a flash, and Maye Musk found herself at home with no children. It was the first time in a long time that she didn't have one of her kids living with her. She said to Forbes, "They all went their own ways and for the first time I had no children and it was actually wonderful."
"I could actually work out at night. I didn't have to go home. I didn't have seven loads of laundry on a Sunday afternoon," she continued. Maye was enjoying her time as an empty nester. Elon and Kimbal were pursuing their degrees at Queen's University, and Tosca was studying film at the University of British Columbia.
California Was Calling
Elon and Kimbal graduated from university and moved to Silicon Valley - yep, that Silicon Valley in California. They started a business called Zip2, and their proud mom gave them all $10,000 of her savings at the time to help keep the business running, reports Forbes.
She would also fly out every six weeks to see her boys and help them out by running errands for them. Then, in 1996, she joined her family on the west coast. Although she was closer to her kids, life in California was challenging for Musk. She revealed to The New York Times, "I was lonely there."
A Promise for the Future
Maye's 50th birthday was coming up, and her kids decided to throw her a huge birthday party. They wanted to show how much they loved and cared for her. They organized the bash at the home of an investor. But the gift they gave their mother was the most special of all.
It was a promise for the future. Musk recalled to The New York Times, "They gave me a tiny wooden house and wooden car. They said, 'Someday we will buy you a house and a car.'" Would they live up to their birthday promise? We have a feeling the answer is yes.
To the Big Apple
By 1999, the boys lived up to their promise. Compaq acquired their company Zip2 for a jaw-dropping $307 million. Elon and Kimbal bought their mother a house, just like they promised. However, Maye Musk didn't settle down in NorCal, instead opting for a change in scenery.
Yet again, Musk was on the move, and this time it was to the Big Apple. She purchased an apartment in the Flatiron district of Manhattan. Her sons weren't about to rest, though. They continued to build their careers, and their mother was doing the exact same thing.
She chose to live in Manhattan because of her modeling career. There were more opportunities in New York than there were in California. Plus, there are more actresses in Hollywood that end up being competition for jobs. So, Musk opted to live in NYC and enjoyed every second of it.
Her dedication to her career paid off: she ended up being signed to IMG, one of the biggest modeling agencies in the world. Not only that, but she is now one of the most sought-after models by companies. With a resume full of star-worthy moments, there's no doubt that Maye Musk was born for this lifestyle.
'An Uncontainable Force'
Musk has been reaping the rewards of her hard work. Her daughter, Tosca, wrote about Maye for Sports Illustrated, "She is an uncontainable force, and she's the most fearless woman I've ever known." An uncontainable force is spot on. Musk became the face of the Covergirl brand and appeared in their Simply Ageless campaign.
Not only did she become the face of the brand, but she made history by being the oldest spokesmodel for Covergirl. She's been on billboards in Times Square, walked the runway at New York Fashion Week, traveled globally to model, was in a Beyoncé music video, and was on the cover of ELLE. Work it, girl!
Embracing Her Gray
Like many women, Maye Musk dyed her hair to keep it from going completely gray. When she was younger, she had brown hair and would dye it blonde. She told the Daily Mail, "I thought, 'I'm really tired of this and I'm going to see what's underneath even if I never work again.' So I grew it out white."
Instead of her career ending, it did the exact opposite. It was booming! Musk remarked, "Looking back, letting my hair go natural was an amazing decision because I started getting major ad campaigns." She added, "People would stop me in the street and say they loved my hair!"
Fearlessly Embracing Age
Throughout her many careers and cities she's called home, one thing has remained consistent for Maye Musk. She seemingly has no fear! She embarks on new adventures and dares to dream further than anyone else. So, it makes sense that Musk isn't scared of growing old.
She told Forbes, "It just seems that women are scared of aging, and I've never feared aging." She added about the modeling campaigns she's been involved with, "I think it gives hope to women as they age they can continue to work and be relevant and confident and comfortable with themselves."
In 2022, Maye Musk became the oldest model featured on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition. Musk joked with PEOPLE, "My first reaction was, I could never dream up something like that because why would anyone have a 74-year-old on their cover, especially in a swimsuit."
She continued, "I do think it's going to make women feel more comfortable in their seventies when they swim, as well as women in their twenties and thirties." She also joked with PEOPLE that men will go to the beach looking terrible, and urged women not to care too much!
Happiest at 74
Life is constantly filled with twists and turns, and Maye Musk's life has been no different. It has taken her 74 years to be the happiest she's ever been. She told PEOPLE, "I went through different stages of my life where I was rejected, insulted, disappointed and it just takes away your confidence."
She continued, "So here, I'm 74, I'm the happiest I've ever been, and I don't care, and nobody's insulting me because — you don't want to insult a grandmother. The point is, people are really good to me at this stage, but why should it take so long?"
Tosca has always looked up to her mother's strength and courage. When her mother appeared on SI, she wrote a piece about her for the magazine, saying, "My whole life, I've seen my mom do everything. As a result I think I'll always expect her to be able to do everything."
She continued, "Sometimes I wonder whether it's time I start limiting those expectations, as she gets older. But then I look at her again, still unstoppable, and I think, Not yet." Musk is a force to be reckoned with. Grandma, model, nutritionist, mother, and those are just some of the titles she holds dear to her heart.
One of her more important roles is being a grandmother to her 12 grandchildren. All of them call her "Ouma." There was no way that Musk was going to be called just grandma. Her eldest son, Elon, has seven children from various partners. Kimbal has three kids with his ex-wife, and Tosca has two kids.
With a family as big as theirs, holidays are surely huge events. She shares the specialness of being a grandparent on social media. In the Musk family, they are all about spending quality time together and hugging each other. Out of all her jobs, being a grandparent is the one she enjoys the most.
What About Her Children?
Not only is she a wonderful grandmother, but she is a phenomenal mother. She raised three extremely successful children. Her son, Elon, is perhaps the most well-known of her three kids. Although he's now primarily known as the owner of Tesla, Twitter, and SpaceX, he's had many other ventures.
After selling a company with his brother, Kimbal attended culinary school and began a restaurant group called The Kitchen. While Tosca pursued her dream of being a filmmaker, she directed a few movies and started a streaming service called Passionflix. That's a whole lot for one family to achieve!
There is still so much in store for Maye Musk and her family. With a strong matriarch like Maye leading the way, nothing is out of reach for them. Musk has gone from a young girl traversing the African desert to a successful model and nutritionist, evolving continuously throughout the seven decades of her life.
As for Musk's advice to other parents? "Well, pretty much what I've been saying to you is that your priorities are your children. So you look after them, make sure they're doing nice things, but get them to do something for you to make them more independent."