Flickr / Creative Commons / Melody Ayres-Griffiths

World's Oldest

Walter Breuning (AP Photo)When Walter Breuning died on April 14, 2011, he passed a torch: that of the world’s oldest living man. Born Sept. 21, 1896, Breuning had held the honor since 2009, and with his death, he passes it along to Jiroemon Kimura of Japan, whose 114th birthday is just four days away.

Breuning was part of an elite group of supercentenarians, men and women who live past 110 years old. He lived in three centuries, heard Civil War stories first-hand from a grandfather who served, and wholeheartedly embraced the rise of computers and other new technologies. And he offered some words to live by in an interview a few months before his death, including such wise nuggets as “Work as long as you can; that money’s going to come in handy” and “Eat two meals a day: that’s all you need.”

Breuning’s obituary highlights his long memory and folksy bits of wisdom. Reading it prompted us to look at a few other obituaries for people like him who have held an “oldest living” honor.

Mississippi Winn (1897 – 2011) was the oldest living African-American at the time of her death. Her parents were born before the Civil War and may have been born into slavery, though Winn preferred not to discuss the topic. Even at 113, Winn was mentally sharp and felt young. She lived on her own until she was 103, and she always felt ready to live another year. A member of the Baptist Church, her favorite Bible quote was “Be ye kind to one another.”

Mary Ray (1895 – 2010) lived to be the oldest person in the United States, the second-oldest in the world, and the oldest person ever in the history of New Hampshire. In what seems like a common theme for supercentenarians, she was still spry and happy just weeks before her death… and she was planning her 115th birthday party.

Tomoji Tanabe (1895 – 2009) held the title of world’s oldest man before Walter Breuning. A Japanese citizen, he avoided alcohol and cigarettes, and he drank milk daily. His obituary notes that his favorite foods – fried shrimp and miso soup with clams – were in keeping with the traditional seafood-rich Japanese diet, which leads to notable longevity in the country’s population.

Edna Parker (1893 – 2008) lived to claim the title of world’s oldest person before her death at age 115. She graduated from college in 1913, and she and her husband were the first people in their area to own a car. She too never drank nor smoked, and she lived alone until age 100. Parker’s grandson thought her slim build and happy-go-lucky character – “She’s never been a worrier” – were the keys to her longevity. Her best advice for a good life was “more education.”

Emma Tillman (1892 – 2007) held the honor of world’s oldest person for just four days, the shortest “oldest reign” on record. Born to former slaves, she had four siblings who lived past 100. Another teetotaler and a deeply religious woman, she attributed her long life to God’s will: “Whatever the good Lord wants is what will happen.”