Give the lady a box of chocolates: Cooper recognized as ‘world’s oldest living person’
By GLENN HANNIGAN
She doesn’t credit a special diet, secret supplements, or any particular exercise regimen.
But Besse Cooper does have her own theory on how, at age 114, she has become the oldest living person in the world.
“Minding my own business,” she simply said. Apparently, it does not hurt your chances at longevity to have a sense of humor or quick wit.
Cooper, a long-time member of New Hope at Between UMC, was officially recognized as the oldest person in the world earlier this month. In the 2010 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records, Cooper is listed as the third oldest living person.
But on Nov. 4, 115-year-old French nun Eugenie Blanchard died on the French Caribbean island of St. Barts. Then, on Jan, 31, Eunice Sanborn, who was born just a few months before Cooper, died at her home in Texas.
As news was spreading around the world that Cooper had become the oldest living person, she was sleeping comfortably at Park Place nursing home in Monroe.
When Cooper was informed by her son, Paul, that she had reached the unlikely milestone – literally 1-in-7 billion -- she knew it called for a special celebration.
“I should get a box of chocolates,” the supercentenarian said, “assorted.”
In 1896, the year Cooper was born, Henry Ford produced his first “horseless carriage.” The modern Olympics were reborn in Athens. Grover Cleveland was president of the United States (all 45 of them). Nicholas II was crowned czar of Russia. Wesleyan College defeated Yale in the first intercollegiate basketball game, 4-3.
Mrs. Cooper, was born in Sullivan, Tenn. She graduated from East Tennessee Normal School in 1916 and became a teacher. She moved to Between, Ga., in 1917 for the opportunity to increase her pay as a teacher: she earned $70 a month in Georgia, double what she earned in Tennessee.
Cooper has been a member of New Hope at Between since 1923. She faithfully attended each Sunday until late into her 90s.
In Georgia she met and later married Luther H. Cooper. Mrs.Cooper taught school until her children were born. Her hobbies include gardening and reading.
“She is much loved at the church,” said New Hope pastor Loretta Altman. “She raised her children in the church and was very active in women’s ministry and UMW.”
On Aug. 26, at her 114th birthday celebration, a Guinness Book of World Records representative, Robert Young, presented her with a supercentenarian (anyone more than 110 years old) plaque.
"Not a lot of people turn 114," said Young, who serves as the Guinness consultant on gerontology. "Only about one in a billion reach that age."
“She still communicates well,” pastor Altman said. “She does not hear very well, but she is still sharp and knows what is going on. She is a former teachers and I am a former teacher so I have enjoyed getting to talk with her.”
Altman’s church, proud of its most famous member, put a special message on its sign recently to honor “Our Besse Cooper.”
“Everyone around here is excited about the news,” Altman said. “It has been the talk of the town. We are thrilled to be her church family.”