The woman whose wish it was to have President Obama to make it to her 117th birthday has passed away. Gertrude Weaver, 116, officially became the world's oldest person five days ago, after the death of former title holder, 117-year-old Misao Okawa of Osaka, Japan, on Wednesday last week. A native of Arkansas, Weaver is survived by her son, 94-year-old Joe Weaver.
The Silver Oaks Health and Rehabilitation Center resident was alert and oriented in the days prior to her death, said center spokesperson Kathy Langley in an interview with The Washington Post.
"She knew that she was the oldest person in the world, and she enjoyed that distinction greatly," said Langley. "She enjoyed every phone call, every letter, every comment — everything was read to her." After becoming sick with pneumonia over the weekend, Weaver passed at 10:12 a.m. Monday morning.
Weaver had told Associated Press reporters last week that her key to aging gracefully was to "use a lot of skin moisturizer, treat everyone nice, love your neighbor and eat your own cooking," and that she hoped the president would be able to make it to her 117th birthday on July 4. "She was an amazing woman who we deeply loved, and we’re incredibly saddened by her loss," added Langley on Monday.
Prior to her death on Monday, Weaver, the daughter of sharecroppers and who later became a domestic helper, was officially the last living person born in the year 1898. With her passing, the title of "World's Oldest" now goes to Jeralean Talley, 115, of Detroit, Michigan.
After Weaver's 116th birthday last July, the Genealogy Research Group of Los Angeles awarded her a plaque for being the oldest living American at the time. Weaver told reporters that President Obama himself had sent her a congratulatory letter, and the mayor of her hometown, Camden, Arkansas, officially declared Friday, July 4 "Gertrude Day" in honor of the supercentenarian. In a comment to Arkansas Matters that week, Weaver reiterated her lifelong philosophy of generosity. "I treat everyone the way I want to be treated," she said.
Previous title holders from across the globe include the previously mentioned Misao Okawa, who raised three children with her husband Yukio, a businessman working in Kobe. When asked by Guinness World Record officials what the secret to her longevity was, 117-year-old Misao joked, "I wonder about that too!" She told reporters that she largely credited her old age to a lifetime of "eating sushi and [getting] at least eight hours sleep a night."
Guinness World Record officials and the Gerontology Research Group confirm that the oldest human to ever win the title was 122-year-old Jeanne Calment of France, who passed away in August 1997. According to the report by The New York Times following Calment's death, the supercentenarian was born a year before Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone, and a full 14 years prior to the construction of the Eiffel Tower.
When asked about Calment, public health researcher and Calment biographer Jean-Marie Robine told the Times that Calment's greatest strength was her "unflappability."
"I think she was someone who, constitutionally and biologically speaking, was immune to stress," said Robine. "She once said, 'If you can't do anything about it, don't worry about it.'"
Of course, family and friends remembered well one of Calment's gentler (if not slightly humorous) moments too: after meeting famed artist Vincent Van Gogh in Arles at the age of 12 or 13, Calment declared, "[He is] very ugly, ungracious, impolite, sick — [but] I forgive him, they called him 'loco.'"
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