Wednesday, April 25, 2018
News Roundup

Clearwater woman is oldest living American

CLEARWATER

The oldest living American isn't in a nursing home or a hospital or an assisted living facility. She lives in her own condominium just off bustling U.S. 19 in Clearwater.

Elsie Thompson, 113 years and 299 days old, became the oldest American when the previous title holder, Mamie Rearden of South Carolina, died earlier this month at the age of 114.

Thompson, who has lived in the same Clearwater condo since 1971, is now the fifth-oldest person in the world.

Born on April 5, 1899, during the William McKinley administration, she is one of the few human beings left on Earth who drew breath during the 19th century. There are only 14 of those people left — only six are Americans.

The Tampa Bay Times visited with Thompson on her 111th, 112th and 113th birthdays, but the Times wasn't able to interview her on this occasion because her family is concerned about the severe flu season. Last month, the two oldest Americans then living — Besse Cooper, 116, and Dina Manfredini, 115 — both died of infections.

As a precaution, Thompson is taking no visitors other than the three caregivers who watch after her around the clock.

"We're just being very careful about her coming into contact with anybody," said her son George Thompson, 72, of Thousand Oaks, Calif.

However, we can describe what Thompson's life is like.

The widow of a Pennsylvania lawmaker spends her days puttering around her beloved home in the Imperial Cove condominiums south of Clearwater Mall. Every morning, one of her caregivers helps her get dressed and makes her breakfast — typically oatmeal, a banana or an egg.

"You'll say, 'Elsie, honey, you wanna get up?' And she'll say, 'You betcha.' Sometimes she'll talk and talk," said Susie Harper, her caregiver for more than 13 years. "Sometimes when she's tired, she doesn't want to say anything. But she has a happy and uplifting spirit about her."

Married in 1921

The oldest living American likes to drink coffee. With a walker, she can get around on her own. Although her hearing isn't what it used to be, she listens to music on her stereo. She hums the hymns that she played on the church piano when she was a little girl.

Thompson grew up in Pittsburgh and got married in 1921. While her husband, Ron Thompson, served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, she ran his business, which refined used gold. After he served 22 years in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, the couple retired to Clearwater.

When her husband died in 1986, her son asked her to move to California so they would be closer. But she wanted to stay where her friends and home were. Until age 102, she made an annual trip to the West Coast to spend Christmas with her son, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Now family visits her instead.

"It has continued to work because she's well taken care of," her son said. "It's a different world here, and she's so familiar with everything there. You should see how she gets around her apartment. She knows exactly where everything is."

What's her secret?

What is Elsie Thompson's secret? Researchers say it's mostly in the genes.

"Biology is the most important factor," said Robert Young of the Gerontology Research Group, a global network of experts who track "supercentenarians" — people who are 110 or older.

It's a tough group to join. Although nearly seven people per thousand live to be 100, only one in 4 million cracks the 110-year barrier. Almost all are women, according to Dr. Stephen Coles, a UCLA gerontologist who co-founded the research group.

People of Thompson's age are even rarer.

"It's one thing to be 110. It's another thing to be 113," Young said. "If 110 is like being in the major leagues, 113 is like the all-star team."

Although average human life expectancy has steadily risen (currently 80 for American women and 75 for American men), the upper limits of human longevity haven't really budged. Only eight people in the world have ever seen their 116th birthdays. Only four have lived to be 117. The oldest human ever, Jeanne Calment of France, made it to 122.

Young says the longest-living people have the right genetic makeup, but they also live moderate lifestyles. They don't smoke, don't overeat, are socially engaged, keep an even keel, and get a good night's sleep.

"You can practice all you want, but it's not going to make you play basketball like Michael Jordan. But if Michael Jordan hadn't practiced, he wouldn't have been a great player," Young said.

"If you have good genes, you still have to make the most of them."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151.

 
Comments
Carlton: The zoo is changing, but don’t worry. The meerkats are on it.

Carlton: The zoo is changing, but don’t worry. The meerkats are on it.

The other day I stopped to check on some progress. And got to see a meerkat, too. Progress in Tampa these days usually refers to the development of Vinikville — excuse me, Water Street Tampa — along the south edge of downtown. Or what w...
Updated: 10 minutes ago
Clearwater looks to move out of City Hall to speed up Imagine Clearwater waterfront redevelopment

Clearwater looks to move out of City Hall to speed up Imagine Clearwater waterfront redevelopment

CLEARWATER — Elected officials have talked about relocating City Hall from the downtown bluff for a good 30 years. Now there’s a jolt of urgency to actually do it.Voters backed a referendum in November that essentially greenlighted the $55 million re...
Updated: 13 minutes ago
We tried the new restaurants at Tampa International Airport, and we're full

We tried the new restaurants at Tampa International Airport, and we're full

TAMPA When Tampa International Airport debuted in 1971, each terminal had a newsstand and a snack bar, called something kicky like Snack Bar. This was an era when people still dressed up to travel, when flight attendants were glamorous creatures in ...
Updated: 27 minutes ago
He spent 17 years in prison. Now he’s a free man.

He spent 17 years in prison. Now he’s a free man.

TAMPA — Dwight DuBose walked out of the Orient Road Jail on Tuesday night after trading an orange jumpsuit for a brand new polo shirt and slacks.It was about 9 p.m. He flashed a broad smile and hug staff members of the Innocence Project of Florida wh...
Updated: 29 minutes ago
The Daystarter: Another day in the 80s; Clearwater looks to relocated City Hall; The Most Interesting Man in the World visits Tampa

The Daystarter: Another day in the 80s; Clearwater looks to relocated City Hall; The Most Interesting Man in the World visits Tampa

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.• Today’s high temperature tops out about 80 degrees, according to 10Weather WTSP. Our next rain chance is Friday when a weak front moves through. And next week brings the heat. Expect ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Pennsylvania women guilty of golfing while black; 13 trucks line up in Detroit to stop suicide; Puerto Rican anger grows over lack of basic services; more in U.S. news

Pennsylvania women guilty of golfing while black; 13 trucks line up in Detroit to stop suicide; Puerto Rican anger grows over lack of basic services; more in U.S. news

PennsyvlaniaGuilty of golfing while blackBlack people have long complained about getting pulled over by police for "driving while black," or being eyed suspiciously by security guards for "shopping while black." Now, five women say they got into trou...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Toronto attacker likely hated women; 3 murdered film students had stumbled into Mexican gang battle; more in world news

Toronto attacker likely hated women; 3 murdered film students had stumbled into Mexican gang battle; more in world news

CanadaToronto attacker hated womenThe suspect in the deadly van attack in Toronto posted a chilling Facebook message just before plowing into a crowded sidewalk, authorities said Tuesday. The post indicated the computer studies graduate and ex-milita...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Hillsborough’s Eakins gets high praise for finances, mixed reviews on other issues in his annual School Board evaluations

Hillsborough’s Eakins gets high praise for finances, mixed reviews on other issues in his annual School Board evaluations

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins is proud of his record in boosting high school graduation rates and inroads he has made in marketing the nation’s eight largest school district.His seven bosses on the School Board...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Shrinking supply of Tampa Bay condos and townhomes drives up prices

Shrinking supply of Tampa Bay condos and townhomes drives up prices

Sales of condos and townhomes in the Tampa Bay area jumped 9.5 percent in March, hitting a median of $156,000. The price gain was prompted in part by a supply shortage, with sales down 7.5 percent amid a dwindling inventory. Statewide, sales also lag...
Published: 04/25/18
The best airports around the country for food and drink

The best airports around the country for food and drink

It was a revolutionary idea: Have travelers’ experience of a city begin when they land at the airport. Instead of McDonald’s and Panda Express, why not have restaurants that reflect the culture and breadth of a city’s offerings? San Francisco Interna...
Published: 04/25/18