FORTUNE — You may recognize Maye Musk from her 2011 New York Magazine cover, a provocative photograph of the 63-year-old model, nude and photoshopped to make her appear nine months pregnant a la Demi Moore’s Vanity Fair cover. (The cover line, “Is She Just Too Old For This?” teased a story about middle-aged women giving birth.) Some may know Musk from her work as a dietitian focused on wellness and longevity.
And then there’s her other claim to fame: One of her three children is Elon Musk, Fortune‘s 2013 Business Person of the Year.
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Elon, a co-founder of PayPal, is the audacious innovator behind three other major startups: electric car maker Tesla Motors , commercial space travel outfit SpaceEx, and SolarCity , which provides rooftop solar systems. So Maye played a critical role in spawning (literally) some of the great inventions of our time — and was an entrepreneurial role model.
Maye Musk’s career path is one of twists and turns. She was born in Canada but raised in Pretoria, South Africa. She loved the sciences and reading, visiting the library twice a week. But her mother’s friend had a modeling agency, and suddenly Maye found herself at beauty pageants. After gaining her dietitian degree from University of Pretoria, she married engineer Errol Musk at 22 and then had three children in three years. She launched a counseling practice, allowing for a flexible schedule with the kids.
Maye’s brood of Elon, Kimbal, and Tosca got along well, but each had his or her own personality quirks. Maye says Elon’s introversion led her to believe for some time that he might be deaf. He was bullied in school; Maye assured her son that she, too, got picked on as a child and that her twin sister often shielded her from classmates’ barbs.
Maye says she soon understood that Elon’s quietness simply meant he was thinking. (Son Kimbal and daughter Tosca were much more outgoing). Maye and Errol divorced before Elon was 10. As teens, her sons spent their weeks with their dad and their weekends with mom, and Maye says she lived for her kids. “If they had a sporting event — actually, they weren’t that good at sports — so any kind of event, I would make sure I had time to go and support them.” All the while, Maye managed to build out her dietitian business.
When he was 17, Elon moved to Canada. Though she had a thriving practice in South Africa, and the dietitian community sought her out as a speaker at industry events, Maye and the rest of the family followed Elon.
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