© St. Petersburg Times, published October 30, 2002
ST. PETERSBURG -- As a young woman, Mary L. Parr wanted to go away to college, following in the footsteps of a sister. Her parents said no. They wanted her to study closer to home.
She had always been a frail child, they said, and they worried about her health.
On Tuesday (Oct. 29, 2002), Miss Parr, declared the oldest person in America and the second-oldest in the world, died at 113 at Suncoast Manor.
A resident since 1965 of the Pinellas Point retirement community, she lived to see the invention of television and man stand on the moon. In World War I, she was a Red Cross volunteer.
"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," Janice Lambe, a Suncoast Manor activities director who knew Miss Parr for about 20 years, said earlier this year. "She loved her life and working for the Red Cross."
That was not the first time she was asked about the secret of a long life.
"Giving advice to people can be pretty dangerous," she said in 1993 when she had turned 104. "But you don't feel any different. You tire more easily. I'm in good health, but I'm just old. I'll probably wake up one morning gone," she said.
She suspected that her longevity was inherited. Her parents were 93 when they died. "And I thought that was old then," she said.
A sister, Lillian Prine, with whom she lived at Suncoast Manor, died in 1991 at 100.
Miss Parr spoke lovingly of her family.
"I had two very nice sisters," she said of Edith and Lillian, who were younger than she. Edith worked for a high school in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Her father was in the lumber business in Michigan, where the family lived. Her mother, who married him at a young age, was a homemaker.
Miss Parr's first job was as a volunteer social worker with the American Red Cross in a Cape May, N.J., hospital during World War I. After the war, she was put on the payroll. In 1928 she was assigned to assist victims of the infamous unnamed Lake Okeechobee category 4 storm that took 1,836 lives.
Her organizational skills revealed, she next found her most fulfilling job with the South Carolina Tuberculosis Association, setting up clinics for free examinations.
She was born in 1889, the year the White House got electric lights.
Her age gave her entry into a fraternity of celebrated elders that includes John McMorran, who turned 113 in Lakeland last June 19. He was four months younger than Miss Parr.
The honor of being the country's 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 Robert Young, a Los Angeles investigator for Gerontology Research Group, found Miss Parr.
Gerontology Research, a nonprofit organization dedicated to antiaging study, recently said the world had 41 validated supercentenarians -- people who had reached 110 years or older. The oldest: Kamato Hongo, a Japanese woman who celebrated her 115th birthday Sept. 16.
Miss Parr was second. McMorran was fifth, behind two Japanese 113-year-olds.
Young came upon Miss Parr during an exhaustive computer search of newspaper articles.
But Young had to document Miss Parr's age without a birth certificate, which was not always provided in the late 1800s.
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.
Miss Parr had no living relatives.
Her arrangements are being handled by Anderson-McQueen Funeral Homes and Cremation Tribute Center-Ninth Street Chapel.
-- Information from Times files was used in this obituary.