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At 107, still on top of the world

She recalls the days of horse and buggy. And the greatest invention of all time? Electricity.

By NOVA BEALL, Times Staff Writer
Published November 28, 2007


CLEARWATER - At 107, Dorothy Fulton Burt remembers when cattle grazed along the banks of the Anclote River in Tarpon Springs.

She's watched five of her doctors grow old enough to retire.

And she's seen herself become the oldest participant in a geriatric research program funded by Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

"After 107 birthdays, I wonder why I'm still here," she said. "I feel that God will call me when he's made a place for me, and I'm truly thankful for the gift of each day."

Mrs. Burt turned 107 on Friday, celebrating with family and friends at a party at the home of fellow On Top of the World resident Patty Foreman.

The petite centenarian lives independently in her two-bedroom Clearwater condo with assistance from granddaughter Beth O'Malley of Clearwater and several neighbors.

Mrs. Burt was born Nov. 23, 1900, on a farm in Burgettstown, Pa. In 1910, she moved with her parents and eight siblings to the sleepy fishing village of Tarpon Springs, where her parents owned and operated Riverside Dairy Ranch on land north of the Anclote River until the Great Depression.

Mrs. Burt remembers the crystal-clear waters of Spring Bayou and Wall Springs, where she learned to swim as a youth.

A 1915 graduate of Tarpon Springs High School, Mrs. Burt went on to study for one year at Florida State College for Women (now Florida State University), then earned a teaching certificate in a two-year program at the University of Florida.

After teaching elementary school for two years, she yearned for a more challenging outlet. She graduated magna cum laude from nursing school and became a government nurse in the Panama Canal Zone. There, she met her husband, Donald George Burt, a graduate and instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md., who treated her to a submarine ride through the canal on one of their dates.

The young couple resided in Hawaii and Coronado, Calif., before eventually settling in Moorestown, N.J. The Burts had two children, Edith and Donald Jr., both now deceased. There are two granddaughters, Shawn Sidwell of New Hampshire and Beth O'Malley of Clearwater, and a great-granddaughter, Sara Shanley of Largo.

When the couple returned to Tarpon Springs in 1952, Mrs. Burt worked as a nurse for the Pinellas County Health Department.

In 1969, the Burts bought a condo at On Top of the World in Clearwater. Mr. Burt passed away four years later.

Thirty-eight years later, Mrs. Burt is still at the same address, and enjoys relaxing on her front porch and visiting with friends.

She recalls the days of outhouses, hauling water and traveling by horse and buggy, and thinks the greatest invention of all time was electricity.

When asked whether she would have preferred growing up today, Mrs. Burt's answer suggested that a long lifetime of experience has taught her something about the value of being diplomatic.

"We may not have had much, but we had love and caring," she said. "I have so much to be grateful for."

Fast facts

She's not alone

Dorothy Fulton Burt has done a lot in her 107 years, but check out Page 3 for these two other noteworthy centenarians:

- Rose Catherine Gorga, 105, of Largo served as a WAC in World War II and spent a career at the National Park Service.

- Karla Harrison, 100, of Clearwater Beach worked at the Smithsonian Institute as a scientific illustrator and endowed a chair in environmental studies at George Washington University.