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World's oldest woman Besse Cooper dies at 116 in Georgia nursing home

Besse Cooper celebrates her 116th birthday in Monroe, Ga., on August 26.
Besse Cooper celebrates her 116th birthday in Monroe, Ga., on August 26.Jessica Mcgowan / Guinness World Records

A 116-year-old woman listed by Guinness World Records as the oldest living person died on Tuesday in a nursing home in Georgia.

Besse Cooper died peacefully at the Park Place nursing home in Monroe, Georgia, according to her son Sidney Cooper.

"She looked real good when she passed away," the 77-year-old Cooper told Reuters, saying his mother died quietly and without suffering.

"She got up this morning, had a big old breakfast and got her hair fixed," he said. "It's just like she got up planning to do it."

He said his mother, who taught school until her first child was born in 1929, had four children. All of them survived her and are still in good health, he said.

"She lived in three centuries. Don't many people do that," said Cooper. He added that his mother died after a brief bout of breathing trouble that put her back in bed after lunch.

'I don't eat junk food'

When asked for her secret to a long life, Cooper told the Guinness website earlier this year: "I mind my own business. And I don't eat junk food."

Sidney Cooper said his mother was a strong, determined woman who, like the school teacher she was, could be a disciplinarian.

She was fair and honest, he said, but "when she said something needed to be done, you'd better do it."

Besse Cooper was born in Sullivan County, Tennessee, on August 26, 1896. She began to go to school at age 5 — yes, she walked from a log cabin — to make sure one of her brothers attended. She grew to love going to class and eventually went to East Tennessee Normal School (now East Tennessee State University) in Johnson City to study education. 

When she graduated, she got a job earning $35 a month. When she heard from a friend she could make more in Georgia, she got a job in Monroe making twice as much. 

She married Luther Cooper in 1924, and he died in 1963. She never remarried.

Sidney Cooper said his mother always said her best years were when she was in her 80s.

World's oldest woman celebrates her sweet 116th birthday

He said he would always remember her with her straw hat on, working in the flower garden, scratching weeds away with her hoe. She always had fresh-cut flowers in her home, and in her later years, her family would bring some to her room. 

She also loved to watch the news on television, her son said.

"She was very intelligent," Sidney Cooper said. "She loved to read."

Her eyesight had deteriorated, though, and she no longer read the Bible or any of the great works of fiction.

Aside from a few heart issues, she was in "amazing" health, her son said, adding that she never complained of pain even in her final days.

As for her voting record, Besse Cooper didn't vote this year. Neither she nor her husband voted in 1948. They thought Thomas Dewey was a shoo-in. 

Besse Cooper was certified as the world's oldest person by Guinness World Records in January 2011.

The title was stripped from her for a few months when it was discovered that Brazilian-born Maria Gomes Valentim, a fellow super centenarian, was 48 days older. Guinness gave the title back to Cooper after Gomes Valentim died in June 2011.

Besse Cooper is survived by four children, 11 grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren. 

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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