MONROE, Ga. — The East Tennessee State University graduate who was listed as the world’s oldest person has died in a Georgia nursing home at age 116.
Besse Cooper died peacefully Tuesday afternoon in Monroe, according to her son Sidney Cooper.
Cooper says his mother had been ill recently with a stomach virus, then felt better on Monday. On Tuesday he said she had her hair set and watched a Christmas video, but later had trouble breathing. He said she was put on oxygen in her room and died there about 2 p.m.
“With her hair fixed it looked like she was ready to go,” he said.
Cooper was declared the world’s oldest person in January. In May, Guinness World Records learned that Maria Gomes Valentin of Brazil was 48 days older. Valentin died June 21.
A Guinness official says the title now belongs to 115-year-old Dina Manfredini, of Johnston, Iowa.
“It’s a sad day for me,” said Robert Young, Guinness senior consultant for gerontology. He recalled meeting Cooper when she was 111 and took note of her mental agility.
“At that age she was doing really well, she was able to read books,” he said.
Last year on Cooper’s 115th birthday, she celebrated with friends and relatives, enjoyed two small slivers of birthday cake and was serenaded by a musician from Nashville who sang “Tennessee Waltz.”
Sidney Cooper said his family will likely hold a funeral for his mother later this week.
Cooper gained notoriety locally as ETSU approached its 100th birthday in 2011 and discovered that Cooper was its oldest living graduate. She graduated from what was then known as East Tennessee Normal School in 1916.
Cooper was born Besse Brown on Aug. 26, 1896, in Sullivan County. After earning her teaching degree from East Tennessee Normal School, she became a teacher. She married in 1924 and had four children.
Upon learning of Cooper longevity, she was praised by then ETSU president Paul E. Stanton Jr.
“Mrs. Cooper is an example to hold up of a life lived right and well with the building blocks of education for the mind, service through the teaching of others and the value of family,” Stanton said. “We are proud to call her a member of the ETSU family, and we salute her.”
A quote posted Tuesday on the ETSU Alumni Association facebook page said, “The ETSU Family is saddened to announce the news of the passing of our 1916 alumna Besse Cooper, the world’s oldest living person.”