Elizabeth Bolden, 116; was world’s oldest person

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Bolden, a sharecropper’s daughter who was recognized as the world’s oldest person, died Monday in a Memphis nursing home, the home’s administrator said. She was 116.

Bolden died at the Mid-South Health and Rehabilitation Center, a nursing home where she had been living for several years, said the center’s administrator, Charlotte Pierce.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Dec. 13, 2006 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday December 13, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 56 words Type of Material: Correction
Bolden obituary: The obituary of Elizabeth Bolden in Tuesday’s California section said she turned 112 in 2003; she turned 113 that year. The article also said verification of her age was found in the 1900 U.S. census by Robert Young, an investigator for the Gerontology Research Group. The information was found by another researcher, Jeff Knight.

Bolden was born Aug. 15, 1890, according to the Gerontology Research Group, a Los Angeles organization that tracks the ages of the world’s oldest people.


Guinness World Records recognized Bolden as the oldest person in the world in August after the death of Maria Esther de Capovilla of Ecuador, who also was 116.

Born on a cotton farm in Fayette County, Tenn., she was the daughter of freed slaves. She married Lewis Bolden in 1908 and bore the first of seven children in 1909. She outlived her husband by more than 50 years and all but two of her children.

She reportedly leaves more than 500 direct descendants, including 40 grandchildren, 75 great-grandchildren, 150 great-great-grandchildren, 220 great-great-great-grandchildren and 75 great-great-great-great-grandchildren.

Bolden’s age was authenticated last year by Robert Young, an investigator for the Gerontology Research Group, who found Bolden’s birth date listed in the 1900 U.S. Census. That earned Bolden a spot on the group’s list of known super-centenarians, defined as people who are 110 or older.

To put her 116 years in perspective, Young said Bolden was born “the year that Idaho became a state and Sitting Bull was killed. She was an adult with a child when Mark Twain passed away. She was 28 years old when World War I ended.”

According to the gerontology group, Bolden’s death leaves 78 known super-centenarians around the world, the oldest of whom is Emiliano Mercado del Toro, 115, of Puerto Rico. Del Toro is the first man in 20 years to reach the top of the list of oldest known individuals, Young said.

One of Bolden’s relatives, former Memphis Police Chief James Bolden, told the Memphis Commercial Appeal a few years ago that even at 100 she was sharp and had an ability to remember details that was “simply amazing.”

When she turned 112 in 2003, the newspaper asked her why she had lived so long, but all she could say was, “I don’t know.”

The reporter speculated that Bolden just wasn’t in the mood to talk that day.

A few weeks earlier, when one of her daughters kept trying to cover her with a blanket, she delivered an earful.

“If you weren’t my child, I’d put you over my knee and whoop the [expletive] out of you,” she said.

Bolden suffered a stroke the next year, 2004, and spoke little after that.

She was described as a deeply religious person who lived by simple rules.

“She always told us to read the Bible and be honest, to go to church and try to treat people like we wanted to be treated,” daughter Mamie Brittmon told the Commercial Appeal in 2003.

Bolden observed her 116th birthday with two of her favorite things: candy and ice cream.