For 31 years she had been the wife of a successful international education expert and an excellent hostess in Ivy League academic communities. e

"Then Bill died," sighs Midge Marvel, who was widowed in 1978 at age 57. "Thinking of myself as a separate person was almost impossible."

Beyond dealing with her loss, Marvel says the greatest challenge has been finding meaningful work.

"My identity had been so tied up in being Bill's wife," says Marvel, who moved to Virginia to be near her two children. "I'd always had a thread of a career, but I never expected to be alone like this so soon."

Despite a degree in child development, Marvel's career had consisted largely of a succession of part-time administrative-assistant jobs. "I could never advance above administrative assistant," she recalls. "People said you've got a successful husband, what more do you want?"

Now she is "burning up the Beltway," studying for a graduate degree in adult education and counseling, working for a management consulting firm for the National Action Forum for Older Women.

"This is the one time in my life, where I have the time and energy to spare, and I want to utilize in some way that will help other people. I think there are a lot of mid-life women with extraordinary abilities who don't know how to use them.

"I'd like to help them develop their skills and convince employers that middle-aged women are a fantastic human resource now being wasted. Right now I'm trying to find my niche. I feel like I've been on hold all my life. And I'm ready to explode."