Patricia Heaton is not a doctor, but she plays one on Carol’s Second Act. And like her character on CBS’s fall comedy — as well as on her previous long-running sitcoms Everybody Loves Raymond and The Middle — she is a mom in real life. “Every night like clockwork we watch Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune,” Patricia says of her husband and four sons. “I impress my kids. They’re surprised I know so many of the answers ’cause I generally don’t think they hold me in that high of a regard as far as my mental capacity.”

It’s just this kind of dry, deadpan wit that has made Patricia, 61, beloved by TV viewers and coworkers alike. “Patty is one of the most generous humans I’ve come to know,” gushes Carol’s costar Ito Aghayere. Adds fellow cast member Sabrina Jalees, who’s become a friend, “I’m golfing with Patricia Heaton now. My life is, like, perfect.”

As for life in her 60s, “I feel like I know so much more, and I’m more relaxed about a lot of things,” Patricia recently told Closer Weekly at the TCA Summer Press Tour. Part of that is working with World Vision — I’ve been traveling around Africa visiting refugee camps, and I’m very aware of how blessed we are here.”

Patricia has been married to British actor David Hunt since 1990, and their sons range in age from 20 to 25. She’s long cherished the value of family. “My mother died suddenly [of an aneurysm] when I was 12,” says the Ohio native, who developed a “carpe diem” attitude. “You need to do what you want to do now, because tomorrow is not guaranteed.”

She struggled as an actress until she landed a recurring stint as Patricia Wettig‘s cancer doctor on Thirtysomething from 1989–’91, followed by a lead role as Linda Lavin‘s daughter on the 1992-’93 sitcom Room for Two. “I didn’t really make my living as an actor until I was 32,” Patricia recalls. “I started relatively late; I always feel like I’m catching up.”

She shares that quality with Carol, an empty nester who goes back to medical school and becomes a resident. “My kids are pretty much out of the house, and I was feeling a bit at sea,” Patricia explains of why she signed on for the new show. “I’m no longer a full-time mom, and I didn’t have a job as an actress — I very much felt what Carol feels: Who am I without these things?”

The answer: She’s a woman who hasn’t crossed all the items off her bucket list. “At the age of 61, I still have dreams of things I want to do,” says Patricia. And it’s on to the next act!

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