World’s oldest known person

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EAST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Emma Faust Tillman, who marked her 114th birthday last fall by crediting God for her longevity, has become the world’s oldest known person.

Tillman, born in 1892 to former slaves in North Carolina, earned the distinction Wednesday after the death of 115-year-old Emiliano Mercado del Toro at his home on the northern coast of Puerto Rico.

Tillman, of East Hartford, had been the world’s third-oldest person until 115-year-old Julie Winnifred Bertrand of Montreal, Canada, died in her sleep last week.

With del Toro’s death on Wednesday, Tillman became the world’s oldest validated “supercentenarian” in records maintained by the Gerontology Research Group in Los Angeles and other organizations.

At 114 years and 63 days old, Tillman reached the top spot more quickly than the average “oldest known” person verified by Guinness World Records, who is usually closer to 114-and-a-half.

Tillman is the youngest title holder in six years, said Robert D. Young, senior consultant for gerontology for Guinness World Records.

Her ascent – from sixth-oldest in August 2006 to the top position Wednesday – was particularly speedy. The average time for a person to be the world’s oldest is about eight months, Young said.

“I think everybody’s astounded that the other people died as quickly as they did,” he said.

Family members who visited her Wednesday at Riverside Health and Rehabilitation Center said Tillman, who wore a light green blazer and loosely braided hair as she dozed in a wheelchair, has taken the news in stride each time she has moved to a higher spot.

“So much has happened in 114 years that there’s nothing really that fazes her anymore,” said her great-great nephew, John B. Stewart III.

Tillman’s great-nephew, former Hartford fire chief John B. Stewart Jr., has said she never smoked, never drank, did not need glasses and agreed to wear a hearing aid only reluctantly.

The once-sociable woman, who enjoyed “being treated like a diva” and hitting the Foxwoods Resort Casino slot machines, now tires easily and sleeps most of the day, said her great-nephew.

He said Wednesday that they were caught by surprise when they learned she was the oldest known person in the world, and that they recognize their time with her is fleeting and precious.

“Something happens when you get to be 114 or 115 years old. The good Lord calls you home,” John Stewart Jr. said.

Tillman, one of 23 children, moved with her family from Sedalia, N.C., to Glastonbury in 1900 to follow other family members who already had moved north.

She graduated in 1909 as the only black student in her high school and later worked as a cook, maid, party caterer and caretaker for children of several wealthy families. One of the clients of her baking service was Dr. Thomas Hepburn, a noted Hartford Hospital urologist and father to actress Katharine Hepburn.

She married Arthur Tillman in 1914, and they raised two daughters in Hartford before his death in 1939. One of her daughters is deceased and the other, Marjorie, is her caretaker and a constant presence with her at Riverside.

Before moving to Riverside at age 110, she lived alone in a Hartford apartment for years. She also has been a member of the A.M.E. Zion Church in Hartford for more than 80 years and was in the choir there for more than 70 years.

Longevity runs in the family. One of Tillman’s brothers lived to be 108, while one sister lived to 105 and two others lived to 102.

Karen Chadderton, the Riverside center administrator, said Wednesday that Tillman is introspective and unfazed by her longevity.

“She has a lot of faith and says, ‘Whatever the good Lord wants is what will happen,”‘ Chadderton said.

Mercado del Toro, whom Tillman replaces as the world’s oldest person, died at his home in the town of Isabela, about 70 miles west of San Juan, of natural causes, his grandniece, Dolores Martinez told The Associated Press.

“He died like a little angel,” Martinez said.

Mercado del Toro had been having difficulty breathing recently but was conscious and alert shortly before his death, Martinez said outside the family home.

At his death, he was with a great-grandnephew and a caretaker, she said.

Mercado del Toro became the oldest known person in the world last month when 116-year-old Elizabeth “Lizzie” Bolden died in December in a nursing home in Tennessee.



Associated Press Writer Frank Gaud in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.

AP-ES-01-24-07 1722EST

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