Elizabeth "Lizzie" Bolden, recognized as the world's oldest person, died Monday at a Memphis nursing home, not far from the Tennessee fields she and her husband farmed as teenagers almost 100 years ago.
Bolden, the daughter of former slaves, was 116. She was born Aug. 15, 1890, in rural Fayette County, east of Memphis, while Benjamin Harrison was still in the White House.
"She lived a full life and we are very, very proud of her. She had a good life," said grandson James W. Bolden, 69. "She was a dutiful Christian."
Guinness World Records recognized Bolden as the world's oldest person after the August death of Maria Esther de Capovilla of Ecuador, also 116 but 11 months older.
Emiliano Mercado del Toro, 115, of Puerto Rico is now expected assume the title of world's oldest person, said Robert Young, a Guinness researcher. The Gerontology Research Group, an organization that tracks the ages of the world's oldest people, lists Toro's date of birth as Aug. 21, 1891.
Bolden died shortly before 1 a.m. CST at the Mid-South Health and Rehabilitation Center, a nursing home where she had lived since 1999. She suffered a stroke in 2004 and had been bedridden for several years, family members said.
Farming with her husband
But James Bolden said he remembered the grandmother he called "Mamma Lizzie" as a robust farm woman who worked beside her husband, Lewis, in the fields they began farming together in Fayette County in 1908.
"They were both 19 years old when they started," Bolden said.
Elizabeth and Lewis Bolden had seven children and raised cotton and subsistence crops on farmland near Memphis until the 1950s, James Bolden said.
Lewis Bolden died in the early 1950s and "Mamma Lizzie" moved in with relatives nearer Memphis in the 1960s, Bolden said.
"She was a strong woman," he said. "I never knew Mamma Lizzie to be sickly."
But Elizabeth Bolden's health worsened in recent years, and as she moved up on the list of oldest people, family members grew protective of her privacy and kept the news media and other outsiders away.
Birthday ice cream and candy
Reporters were barred from a birthday party in August at which family Members say Bolden, who had a taste for sweets, was treated to ice cream and candy.
She had 40 grandchildren, according to family members, and descendants in the hundreds reaching to great-great-great-great grandchildren.
And until the last years, she was the keeper of the family history.
"She used to tell us a lot of things about her people, the older people," said grandson James Bolden. "I wanted to do a family tree and she gave me all the names, including some people that were back in slavery."