Elsie Thompson, country's oldest person, dies in Clearwater

At 111, Elsie Thompson said her secret to long life was “I love people.” It almost took her to 114.
At 111, Elsie Thompson said her secret to long life was “I love people.” It almost took her to 114.
Published April 1, 2013

CLEARWATER — On the brink of her 114th birthday, the oldest person in the United States died peacefully in her Clearwater condominium.

Elsie Calvert Thompson was born April 5, 1899, drawing her first breath during the administration of President William McKinley. She was the fourth oldest person in the world.

Her 72-year-old son George Thompson — her only child — said she died as he flew from California to see her. She had congestive heart failure.

"She had such a big heart," he said in a telephone interview Sunday. "She was such a large person."

After Mrs. Thompson's death on March 21, her family held a memorial service in Clearwater. Her ashes will be buried in Pennsylvania, next to her late husband.

Born just a year after the close of the Spanish-American War and a decade before the debut of Ford's Model T, Mrs. Thompson was a stylish dresser who practiced her ballroom dancing until shortly before she died. She sang and played the piano.

Susie Harper, 59, Mrs. Thompson's caregiver of 13 years, said she never saw her in a bad mood.

Rather, Mrs. Thompson glided from bed every morning with a smile.

She was a "tireless hostess," offering to prepare food and drink for every guest well after she was more than a century old. "She would wake up and say 'Oh my, won't you look outside? Isn't it beautiful? And if it was raining, she would say 'That's okay, we'll make our own sunshine,' " Harper said

The Times wrote several articles about Mrs. Thompson, visiting her condo along bustling U.S. 19 on birthdays as she climbed up in years and inched toward the record.

As she turned 111, Mrs. Thompson divulged her secret to longevity.

"I love people," she said then.

Earlier this year, when she became the oldest person in the country, her son told the Times he didn't want visitors because he was concerned about the flu season. So he described how she spent her time puttering around her condo, gazing from her window and chatting with her caregivers. With a walker, she could still get around on her own.

Mrs. Thompson grew up in Pittsburgh and married at age 21. Her husband, Ron Thompson, served in both world wars and then in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for 22 years. During World War II, she ran her husband's business, refining used gold.

The couple retired to Clearwater, and her husband died in 1986. Until age 102, she made an annual trip to the West Coast to spend Christmas with her son, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

She is survived by her son George and his wife, Marlo, of Thousand Oaks, Calif., three grandsons and one granddaughter. It was them she was thinking of in those final hours before her death, said Harper, who held Mrs. Thompson as she died. "I told her, 'Don't worry, God is going to take care of you. Your son loves you, and Marlo, your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren,' " Harper said.

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter

We’ll deliver the latest news and information you need to know every morning.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Mrs. Thompson smiled and shook her head. She knew.

Times staff writers Andrew Meacham and Mike Brassfield contributed to this report.