The 116-year-old woman believed to be the oldest person in the world passed away yesterday afternoon.
The Associated Press reported that Besse Cooper, a retired Georgia school teacher with a passion for politics, died quietly in her bed at a Monroe, Ga. nursing home about an hour’s drive from Atlanta. Cooper had recently battled stomach flu, but she had reportedly recovered by Monday. On Tuesday, Cooper had her hair set and watched a Christmas movie, but then she experienced breathing problems. She expired at about 2 p.m. after receiving oxygen.
“With her hair fixed it looked like she was ready to go,” Sidney Cooper, Besse Cooper’s 77-year-old son, told the AP.
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The younger Cooper said his mother was a determined, strong and intelligent individual. CNN reported that just five years after her birth in 1896, Besse Cooper started walking from her family’s Sullivan County, Tenn. log cabin to school in order to make sure one of her brothers got to class. Her time in the classroom developed into a love for school, and she eventually studied education at Johnson City’s East Tennessee Normal School (now East Tennessee State University).
After graduation, she started teaching in Tennessee for $35 an hour, but she moved to Monroe during World War I after her friend informed her she could make more money in the Peach State, according to CNN.
In addition to her appreciation for education, Besse Cooper also developed a fondness for politics. CNN reported she joined the suffrage movement when she was 24, speaking about the importance of having a voice in politics and registering women to vote. After the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote, she never missed a chance to cast her ballot — except twice (In 2012 and in 1948, when she and her husband — who died in 1963 — believed Thomas Dewey would easily win).
Sidney Cooper told CNN that his mother cherished her 80s most out of the nearly 12 decades she lived. He said she loved to garden, watch the news on TV and read — despite her declining eyesight. But Besse Cooper still had it going on, even during the last years of her life. As an 111-year-old, she impressed Robert Young, Guinness senior consultant for gerontology, with her abilities.
“It’s a sad day for me,” Young told AP of Besse Cooper’s death. “At that age she was doing really well, she was able to read books.”
AP reported the supercentenarian was distinguished as the oldest person on the planet in January 2011. In May of the same year, however, Guinness World Records discovered another woman who was 48 days older, Brazilian Maria Gomes Valentin. After Valentin died the following month, Cooper reclaimed the honor no other Georgian has ever received. She told Guinness in 2012 that her secret to longevity was staying out of others’ business and abstaining from junk food.
Besse Cooper’s death makes 115-year-old Dina Manfredini, who lives in Johnston, Iowa, the new record holder. Only seven other people in history have bested Besse Cooper’s time on this Earth — 116 years and 100 days, according to Guinness. The oldest person ever documented — France’s Jeanne Calment, who passed away in 1997, lived to be 122.
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