Besse Cooper, a woman who lived through such notable events as Ford’s first automobile, World War One, the moon landing, and President Obama’s reelection died on Tuesday in a Monroe, Georgia nursing home.
Besse Cooper was 116-years-old and held the title as the world’s oldest person. According to her son Sidney Cooper, 77, Besse was ill with a stomach virus the previous week, but was feeling better on Monday and even had her hair set and watched a Christmas video on Tuesday. However, later in the day she had trouble breathing and was put on oxygen in her room where she died peacefully around 2 p.m.
“With her hair fixed it looked like she was ready to go,” he said.
In January 2011 Besse was declared the world’s oldest person by the Guinness Book of World’s Records; although she temporarily lost the title when it was learned that Maria Gomes Valentin of Brazil was 48 days older. Valentin died the next month.
The Guinness website interviewed Besse earlier this year and asked for her secret to long life. “I mind my own business. And I don’t eat junk food,” she responded.
She was a school teacher in Georgia, participated in the women’s suffrage movement, and registered women to vote after the 19th amendment was added. She voted in every election since 1920, except this year’s and in 1948 when she and her husband thought Thomas Dewey was a shoo-in.
Sidney Cooper described his mother as a strong, determined woman who, thanks to her school teacher nature, could be a disciplinarian. She was fair and honest, he said, but “when she said something needed to be done, you’d better do it.”
Sidney Cooper said his mother referred to her 80s as her best years, and he always remembered her working in her flower garden and reading. Although her eyesight had deteriorated in recent years and she could no longer read, Sidney said that, other than a few heart issues, she was in “amazing” health and never complained of pain.
Besse married her husband Luther Cooper in 1924. He died in 1963 and she never remarried. She is survived by four children, 11 grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren.