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J. McMorran, 113; Oldest Man in U.S., 5th-Oldest Ever

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Times Staff Writer

John McMorran, the oldest man in the United States at 113 years and 250 days, died Monday in Lakeland, Fla., of extraordinary old age.

McMorran was history’s fifth-oldest man, said Dr. L. Stephen Coles of the UCLA-based Gerontology Research Group, a nonprofit international research organization that verifies birth dates and tracks the 35 to 45 people around the globe who are 110 and older.

Coles said that 41 people remain alive in that category, and that the oldest living American is Mary Christian -- one week McMorran’s senior -- of San Pablo, Calif. The verifiably oldest living man in the United States, he said, is now Fred Hale of New York state, who is 112.

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Nearly deaf and blind and in a wheelchair, McMorran remained a spirited person until his death. Robert McMorran Jr. said his grandfather, a widower for nearly 40 years, particularly enjoyed women, and had several girlfriends at his nursing home.

“I drink a cup of coffee before every meal -- and stay away from cheap whiskey,” McMorran said in explaining his secret of longevity for the Port Huron (Mich.) Times Herald News in 2000 after he turned 111.

McMorran actually gave up alcohol in his 50s, younger relatives said, but he used tobacco -- chewing, smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, or his pipe -- until he was 97. He never gave up coffee.

The sprightly man bought his first car, an open-air, crank-engine Ford, in 1912. When Coles quizzed him two years ago, as a test of mental agility, about the current price of a new car, he retorted: “I don’t know because I haven’t bought a car in a long time.”

Born in a log cabin north of Imlay City, Mich., on June 19, 1889, McMorran lived in three centuries and was adamant about when the last two should be celebrated: Jan. 1, 1901, and Jan. 1, 2001.

After growing up on farms, McMorran spent most of his working life behind the wheel of trucks, hauling freight, milk and mail around Michigan.

In 1910, at 21, he hopped a freight train and went off to tour the West. But he soon returned to his native state and lived for more than 45 years in Port Huron.

During World War I, too old at 28 to be drafted, McMorran worked in a Detroit bomb-making factory.

“I earned $1 an hour. At that time, that was big money,” McMorran told the Lakeland (Fla.) Ledger in 1999. “Sometimes I worked 20 hours in a day. We had to check every piece to make sure they were perfect.”

He finally retired and moved to Florida in 1973 when he was 84.

McMorran shared his birth year with four states -- North and South Dakota, Montana and Washington -- lived more than half as long as the United States has existed. He was governed by 21 presidents, from Benjamin Harrison to George W. Bush.

He outlived his three younger siblings; his wife of 50 years, Matie; and their only child, Robert; and is survived only by his son’s three generations of descendants.

Coles -- whose Gerontology Research Group posts information on its Web site (www.grg.org) about the world’s more than 300,000 people over 100 -- said a sample of McMorran’s blood was drawn last year for analysis by the New England Centenarian Study. Through such work, scientists hope to learn more about longevity.


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