Italy’s Emma Morano greeted with a smile the news that she, at 116, is now the oldest person in the world.
Not only that, Emma is believed to be the last surviving person in the world born in the 1800s – with a birth date of November 29, 1899. That is just four-and-a-half months after Susannah Mushatt Jones, who died on Thursday in New York, also at 116.
Journalists descended upon Emma’s home in Verbania, a northern Italian mountain town overlooking Lake Major, to document her achievement, but had to wait until she finished a nap to greet her.
Emma lives in a neat one-room apartment, which she no longer leaves, and is kept company by a caregiver and two elderly nieces.
“I am doing fine -116!” she told well-wishers from her bed.
“I finished school and I went to work. I used to sing. I had a beautiful voice,” she added, summing up her life.
Her physician of 23 years, Dr Carlo Bava, delivered the news earlier that she was officially the world’s oldest person.
“She was very, very happy” and sitting up in a chair, he said. “She was all proud and contented.”
For the occasion, he brought flowers as well as seven Easter cakes called Colomba, an Italian speciality that he managed to procure out of season to satisfy her sweet tooth until Christmas, when Panettone is available.
The doctor said Emma has never had a very balanced diet, relying mostly on animal protein, the occasional banana and grapes in season. Her diet now includes two raw eggs and 100g of raw steak a day, which Dr Bava prescribed after she had a bout of anaemia some years back. Her nieces also make her apple sauce.
Italy is known for its centenarians – many of whom live on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia – and gerontologists at the University of Milan are studying Emma , along with a handful of Italians over 105, to try to figure out why they live so long.
Dr Bava, who visits her every Friday, is convinced there is a genetic component to Emma’s longevity in addition to her positive attitude. One of her sisters lived to be over 100 and another to nearly 100.
She has been in stable health for years, Dr Bava said, with no chronic ailments.
“Her longevity is a genetic fact, nothing else,” Dr Bava said. “She is a person who from a young age had a difficult life that would have sapped the energy out of anyone.”
He said Emma’s husband beat her and she lost an infant son to cot death at six months. She supported herself working in a factory making jute bags, then in a hotel, working well past retirement age.
“She abandoned the husband in the Fascist era, when women were supposed to be submissive. She was always very decisive,” her doctor said.
Dr Bava, who has known Emma since she was 90, also praised her emotional stability.
“She is always a very serene. The beauty of Emma is that it is normal that she smiles, but also in difficulties, she is very decisive,” he said. “But perhaps this tranquillity comes with age, which becomes wisdom. Who knows?”
“I sang in my house, and people on the road stopped to hear me singing. And then they had to run, because they were late and should go to work,” Emma recalled in an interview last summer, before breaking into a round of the 1930s Italian love song Parlami d’amore Mariu.
“Ahh, I don’t have my voice any more,” she lamented.
The Gerontology Research Group has confirmed the ages of dozens of living supercentenarians, those who are 110 and older.
Nearly all are women, and most are located in North America, Europe and Japan, where proof-of-age records are more readily available.
Here are the 10 oldest people in the world whose ages have been validated by the group:
1. Emma Morano-Martinuzzi, 116, Italy;
2. Violet Brown, 116, Jamaica;
3. Nabi Tajima, 115, Japan;
4. Chiyo Miyako, 115, Japan;
5. Eudoxie Baboul, 114, France;
6. Ana Vela-Rubio, 114, Spain;
7. Mitsue Toyoda, 114, Japan;
8. Marie-Josephine Gaudette, 114, Italy;
9. Yukie Hino, 114, Japan;
10. Giuseppina Projetto-Frau, 113, Italy