Besse Cooper

Besse Cooper (center) with her son Sidney Cooper (right) and grandson Paul Cooper at her 115th birthday celebration Friday, Aug. 26, 2011.

MONROE — A few years ago, when Besse Cooper was climbing the ranks of oldest people in the world, she made a prediction to her grandson, Paul Cooper.

“She did,” Paul Cooper said. “She told me she would make it to 115. And she kept her word.”

On Friday, Cooper fulfilled that prediction as she celebrated her 115th birthday at Park Place Nursing Home in Monroe, surrounded by family and friends.

While several old friends came by to wish Cooper a happy birthday, Cooper was also visited by Robert Young, from the Guinness Book of Records, who came with a plaque once again verifying her as the oldest person in the world.

And by reaching 115, Cooper has extended her lead in a way few ever do.

“Less than 25 people have been verified to reach 115,” Young said.

Even better, Paul Cooper said, is she remains in good shape for her age.

“Overall, she’s in excellent health,” Paul Cooper said. “The mortality rate is highest at 114, but it goes down when you reach 115. She’s made it through the toughest year.”

No matter how long Cooper keeps it up, her grandson said her accomplishment remains astounding.

“It’s indescribable,” Paul Cooper said. “I have no words. It’s absolutely amazing.”

Cooper was born Aug. 26, 1896, in Sullivan, Tenn., and moved to Georgia in the 1920s. After marrying Luther Cooper in 1924, Cooper taught at the Between school before she was widowed in 1963. 

She has four children, 12 grandchildren and many great- and great-great-grandchildren.

Cooper has seen a multitude of changes in her lifetime — the first Summer Olympics of the modern era were held the year she was born, the Alaska gold rush began that year, John Philip Sousa composed “Stars and Stripes Forever” and William McKinely was elected president after defeating William Jennings Bryan.

The same year she was born also marked the birth of F. Scott Fitzgerald and famed lyricist Ira Gershwin.

Since then, she has lived through two world wars, the Great Depression, man walking on the moon and a complete change in the way people communicate, as she has lived through the age of the telephone being supplanted by cellular devices. The woman born the same year people mainly communicated via letters and the telegraph now has a page about her on Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that has existed for only a fraction of her liftime.

And Cooper doesn’t look to go anywhere even after the candles are out on her birthday cake.

“She’s better than ever,” Paul Cooper said.

News Editor

Stephen Milligan is the news editor of The Walton Tribune. He lives in Monroe and is a graduate of the University of Georgia.

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