CLEARWATER — Mildred JaMais, who was believed to be the 18th-oldest person in the United States and the second-oldest Floridian, died Thursday. She was 110 and would have turned 111 in February.
In Florida, only Onezima "Onie" Ponder of Ocala, who is 111, was older at the time of Ms. JaMais' death, according to the Gerontology Research Group, a Los Angeles agency that tracks "supercentenarians" for Guinness World Records.
Ms. JaMais' friends and relatives say her upbeat disposition contributed to her longevity. Her favorite snack was KFC and black coffee. Up into her late 80s, she taught neighbors the jitterbug.
She enjoyed another distinction that may have kept her alive: She was the proud stage mother to Connie Haines, a perky big band singer who had a dozen hit songs with Frank Sinatra. Haines died in 2008 at 87.
Ms. JaMais was born Mildred Clements in Savannah, Ga., on Feb. 15, 1899. At the time, William McKinley was the U.S. president. The Spanish-American War had just ended, and the Philippine-American War was about to begin.
The daughter of two English immigrants who claimed Samuel Clemens, or Mark Twain, as a relative, she and her siblings grew up attending private schools.
A creased photo from 1918 shows her in flapper attire next to a uniformed Andre Augusta JaMais They married that year. She stayed with JaMais, a veterinarian, a few years before divorcing. That was long enough to produce two talented daughters.
Barbara, the youngest, grew into a coloratura soprano who studied at the Metropolitan Opera House. The eldest, Yvonne Marie, was born a star. At 5, she placed second in a national Charleston dance competition. She had her own radio show at 10, and was hired by orchestra leader Harry James in New York at 16.
Ms. JaMais worked as a telephone operator to support her daughters, and taught voice and dance.
"Like many of the stage mothers, she probably had a rare talent herself," said Roseanne DeMarco, a friend of the family.
James ordered Yvonne Marie to adopt a stage name. She chose Connie Haines. Back home in Georgia sitting by the radio, her mother thought someone else must have taken her daughter's place — until she heard Haines sing.
"As soon as she heard the voice, she knew," said DeMarco, 56. "She was angry and confused."
By 1939, Haines was churning out duets with Frank Sinatra, including hits like On the Sunny Side of the Street, What Is This Thing Called Love? and Let's Get Away From It All.
Ms. JaMais accompanied her daughter from Las Vegas to the Pocono Mountains and places in between for 40 years while living mostly in California. She never remarried.
"I think she lived through Connie in some ways," DeMarco said. "She had a good life. Maybe not such a good marriage, and she wanted to dedicate herself to Connie."
Ms. JaMais knew many of the top entertainers her daughter worked with, but rarely sprinkled their names into conversation, niece Alyce Carlson said. Ms. JaMais and her daughter moved to Clearwater together in 1985. She kept a tidy efficiency at Baycrest Apartments and reveled in simple pleasures.
"She loved her black coffee and she loved KFC," said Carlson, 70. Ms. JaMais drank the occasional glass of wine but never smoked, she said.
She spent the last 10 years of her life at the Madonna Ptak Morton Plant Rehabilitation Center. Haines serenaded her mother at birthdays through 2006. Her death in 2008 due to myasthenia gravis changed Ms. JaMais, DeMarco said. After Haines' death, Ms. JaMais sometimes told others that she saw her daughter standing by the window.
Ms. JaMais is not on the database of the Gerontology Research Group. No family member ever submitted her name for consideration.
But prior to her death, she was among the world's oldest people. As of Jan. 7, the group lists just 50 people who were born before Feb. 15, 1899, making Ms. JaMais the 51st oldest person in the world before she died. She was the 18th-oldest American, according to the group's official list, and the second-oldest Floridian behind Ponder. All but two of the 76 listed supercenternarians are women.
She comes up just short of making a database kept by the group of the top 650 known human life spans of all time.
"I think she's a lock for the top 750 based on current knowledge," said Louis Epstein, an investigator for the group.
The world's oldest living person is Kama Chinen of Okinawa, Japan, who is 114. Jeanne Calment of France, who died in 1997 at 122, is thought to hold the record for human longevity.
While surviving beyond 100 is no longer considered unusual and hundreds have made it to 110, going much beyond 110 is a different matter. About 99 percent die before reaching 115.
DeMarco broke the news on Thursday to Barbara JaMais, Ms. JaMais' other daughter. Barbara, who lives in a nursing home in California, replied that this meant her mother and Connie were now together and added, "The two of them were always so close."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CORRECTION: Barbara JaMais is the youngest daughter of Mildred JaMais. Her sister Connie Haines is the eldest. Earlier versions of this story used in print and online misstated the birth order.