Maria Esther de Capovilla, 116; Was Considered to Be the World’s Oldest Person

Times Staff Writer

Maria Esther de Capovilla, considered to be the world’s oldest living person, died of pneumonia Sunday in her native Guayaquil, Ecuador. She was 116.

Capovilla was in good health until she developed pneumonia only a few days ago, said Catherine Capovilla, a granddaughter who lives in Aventura, Fla.

Guinness World Records recently documented Capovilla’s age with the help of the Gerontology Research Group, which keeps a global database on people living to be 110 or older.

There are now 73 such “super- centenarians” in the world, said Dr. Stephen Coles of the Gerontology Research Group, based at UCLA.


“From age 110 on, it’s a 50-50 chance that you’ll live another year,” Coles said Monday. “There seems to be an invisible barrier at age 112. Hardly anyone lives beyond that age.”

Capovilla, born Maria Esther Heredia Lecaro on Sept. 14, 1889, was the child of well-to-do parents.

In her early life, she spent part of each year on a family farm and liked to embroider, paint and play the piano.

At 27, she married Antonio Capovilla, a military man of Austrian and Italian descent, after being introduced by neighbors.


“I was at the plantation Josefina and they brought a friend,” Capovilla later recalled of how she met her future husband.

The couple had five children, all of them reared with the help of maids and housekeepers.

Relatives attributed Capovilla’s long life to her mild disposition.

“She always had a very tranquil character,” her daughter Irma said in a 2005 interview with the Canadian Press. “She does not get upset by anything. She has been that way her whole life.”


In recent years, Capovilla lived with one of her daughters, continued to eat three normal meals each day and spent most of her time reading the newspaper and watching television, usually wearing lipstick and fresh nail polish.

“She wasn’t sociable, and she didn’t talk much,” Catherine Capovilla said of her grandmother.

Capovilla is survived by three children, 11 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren. Her husband died in 1949.

With the death of Capovilla, the oldest living person is now Elizabeth “Lizzy” Bolden of Memphis, Tenn., who turned 116 on Aug. 15, Coles said.


Although diet and exercise are relevant to a healthy life, Coles said, the main ingredient of a long life is genes.

“Parents do matter,” he said.