Mary Parr of St. Petersburg might be the oldest person in America. But all she wants is some water.
By LEONORA LaPETER
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2002
ST. PETERSBURG -- Mary L. Parr never married, never had kids and has no living relatives. She lives in a retirement center.
A month ago, a Los Angeles researcher tracked down the 113-year-old St. Petersburg woman and told her she is the oldest person in America, and the second-oldest in the world.
Asked for her reaction Monday, Miss Parr, who cannot hear or see very well and has been ailing after a recent fall, said: "I don't mind."
Miss Parr, who until her fall made her bed and walked to the dining room with a three-wheel walker every day, likely will take the title from a man who lives just 40 minutes away, 113-year-old John McMorran of Lakeland.
A retired American Red Cross worker, Miss Parr moved to Suncoast Manor, a retirement community in Pinellas Point, in 1965. She lived there on her own in an apartment until she was 107.
"We've asked her about her longevity and she always tells us it's because she was never married and she never had to worry about the headache of men," said Janice Lambe, a Suncoast Manor activity director who has known Miss Parr for some 20 years. "She loved her life and working for the Red Cross."
Gerontology Research Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to antiaging study, says the world has 41 validated supercentenarians -- people who have reached 110 years or older. The oldest is Kamato Hongo, a Japanese woman who celebrated her 115th birthday Sept. 16.
Miss Parr is second. McMorran is fifth, behind two Japanese 113-year-olds.
Robert Young, 28, the Gerontology Research Group investigator who found Miss Parr, came upon her during an exhaustive computer search of newspaper articles. He found a 1999 St. Petersburg Times article documenting her 110th birthday. Also, a May 2000 article in the Traverse City Record-Eagle mentioned a Traverse City couple who had visited the then-111-year-old Miss Parr, a former Traverse City resident.
But Young had to document Miss Parr's age without a birth certificate, which were not always provided in the late 1800s.
Since Miss Parr never married, she had no marriage certificate. Guinness World Records typically requires proof from the first 20 years of life. So Young went searching through old census records and found a 1900 document from Michigan on a genealogy Web site that listed the Parr family, including an 11-year-old Mary L. Parr.
He submitted the census record, her St. Petersburg photo identification card and her voter reistration card as proof.
Officials with Guinness World Records could not be reached to verify Miss Parr's status, but an e-mail from a British Guinness researcher to Young indicates they have likely accepted her as the second-oldest woman in the world.
"More evidence would be nice but in this instance, due to the validation of the census and her ID card, we would certainly recognise her as the oldest living person/woman in the U.S.," Della Howes wrote to Young in a Sept. 17 e-mail.
On Thursday, Miss Parr sat in a recliner in a royal blue jacket and paisley skirt, her feet in pink socks and taupe loafers. She wore raspberry lipstick and brown eyeshadow. Her hair was tied into a bun and she had trouble keeping her eyes open.
Her vision and hearing is impaired and she has a painful bunion on her foot. She was extremely thirsty and asked for a glass of water several times. Then she asked the nurse to wipe her face.
"She was walking around up until a month ago," nurse Beverly Cooper said.
Miss Parr's hearing is poor. Though she wears a hearing aid, she can barely understand anyone except those she has heard for years. Lambe, the activities director, is one such person.
"Tell me about your life," yelled Lambe in Miss Parr's ear.
"I don't understand," the woman replied.
"Tell me about your life."
"Oh yes, good life," she yelled back, her pale blue eyes unfocused and staring up.
"Nice drink. Like another drink."
"When were you born Mary?" Lambe asked.
"In the morning."
"Mary, can you tell me how old you are?"
"How do you feel about being the oldest living American?"
"Oh, I don't mind. I want another drink."
"Were you married?"
"That doesn't make any difference."
Miss Parr told Lambe that she wanted to marry one man. But her father didn't like him, and she respected her father's opinion so much that she didn't marry him.
The 113-year-old rarely gets ill and the last time she went to the hospital was in 1997. Her sister, Lillian, lived at Suncoast Manor until she died at the age of 101, a decade ago.
The honor of the United States' oldest person opened up Aug. 21 with the death of Adelina Domingues, a 114-year-old retired seamstress from Spring Valley, Calif. McMorran, a retired farmer and truck driver who smoked a pack of cigarettes a day at one point, became the heir apparent until Young turned up Miss Parr. McMorran is four months younger than Miss Parr.
With 17.6 percent of its population 65 and older, Florida has a higher proportion of elderly among its residents than any state. Some 3,573 people in Florida listed themselves as 100 years or older in the 2000 census, including 145 people who said they were 110 or older.
The world's oldest woman (No. 1) and man (No. 3) live on the Japanese island of Kyushu.
The oldest woman documented was 122-year-old Jeanne Louise Calment of France, who died in 1997 at 122. The U.S. recordholder is 119-year-old Sarah Knauss of Pennsylvania, who died in 1999.
"You have to remember that the life expectancy at these extreme ages is one to two years at any given age," said Louis Epstein, a supercentenarian researcher from Carmel, N.Y., who compiles a list of documented supercentenarians. "I only have 17 people who ever reached 115 who were documented."
-- Times researcher Caryn Baird and computer-assisted reporting specialist Constance Humburg contributed to this report.