Monday, January 29, 2007

World's oldest woman dies four days after assuming title

A woman from Connecticut who had inherited the title of 'world's oldest person' only last Wednesday has died aged 114.

Emma Faust Tillman died in a nursing home in the Hartford where she had lived for the last four years, surrounded by her family.

Born to former slaves, she had seen 21 American presidencies, and up until the age of 110, she had lived independently.

She died last night, setting another record by being the world's oldest person for a mere four days. She was confirmed as the oldest on Wednsesday after the death of Emiliano Mercado del Toro of Puerto Rico, who lived to be 115, according to Guinness World Records.

The oldest person is now is believed to be Yone Minagawa of Fukuoka of Japan, who is 114, says the International Committee on Supercentenarians. This is yet to be confirmed by Guinness World Records.

John B Stewart Jr, Ms Tillman's great-nephew, said that she never smoked or drank, did not need glasses and only reluctantly agreed to wear a hearing aid.

Her family have also described her as a deeply religious woman, who attributed her long life to God's will.

Karen Chadderton, administrator of Riverside Health and Rehabilitation Centre in East Hartford said: "She went peacefully. She was a wonderful woman.

"She has a lot of faith and says, 'Whatever the good Lord wants is what will happen."

Mrs Tillman was born on November 22, 1892, on a plantation near Gibsonville, North Carolina and was one of 23 children, some of whom died at birth. Others lived almost as long as she did: a brother died at 108, a sister at 105 and two others at 102.

Her family later moved to Glastonbury where her father worked on local tobacco and milk farms while she picked and cooked berries to sell along with working as a cook and maid for several white families.

While she was the only black student in her class when she graduated from highschool in 1909, she said she never experienced discrimination there.

"In Glastonbury, I didn’t know if I was white or black," she said in 1994. "People were just fine, even way back then, to me. They treated me just like everybody else."

She later ran her own baking and catering service which was frequented by Dr Thomas Hepburn, the father of actress Katharine Hepburn.

In 1914, she married Arthur Tillman and they had two daughters. He died in 1939.

She is survived by an 80-year-old daughter, Marjorie, and a large number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Yone Minagama was born on January 4, 1893. She has been living at a nursing home for several years and is said to maintain a healthy appetite even though she seldom leaves her bed.