Last summer, a former schoolteacher from Georgia named Besse Cooper became the world’s oldest living human. She was 114 years old—the same age at which nearly everyone earns the distinction, and an age that only a few titleholders ever surpass. Exploring that apparent age barrier in a Slate piece at the time, I wrote that “if historical trends hold, (Cooper) will likely be dead within a year.”
But historical trends did not hold. In defiance of the odds, Cooper, who was born in 1896, was alive and smiling on Sunday to celebrate her 116th birthday. She became just the eighth person in human history to verifiably reach that age.
For the purposes of the broader question of human longevity, Cooper is a mere data point. Whether she dies tomorrow or lives to be 123, older than the oldest person ever, will not in itself tell us much about whether the upper bounds of the human lifespan are rising or holding steady.
But as the picture above reminds us, Cooper is also more than a data point. She’s a living woman with a fascinating history, an adoring family, and a charming smile. On Friday, she had a local bridge named after her. Asked about the secret to her longevity, she told Guinness World Records, “I mind my own business. And I don’t eat junk food.”
Happy birthday, Ms. Cooper.