A 115-year-old Brooklyn resident is now the world’s oldest person.
Susannah Mushatt Jones’ new title was confirmed by the Gerontology Research Group after the previous record-holder, Jeralean Talley of Inkster, Mich., died at 116.
Speaking to TIME in a brief phone call on Thursday, Jones said she felt “fine,” having just finished a hearty dinner of steamed chicken, a baked potato, collard greens and raspberry JELLO. And when told that she was now the oldest living person, she started laughing: “Is that so?” Her home attendant, Audrey Palmer, said “Yes! Can you believe it?” Jones simply replied, “No.”
Neither can her 75-year-old niece, Lois Judge, who also lives in Brooklyn. “I can’t grasp it at all,” she says. “It’s something that’s unexpected. It’s overwhelming.”
Since TIME visited Jones at her home last year, she still eats four strips of bacon for breakfast every morning, along with eggs and grits. Though Jones goes to bed around 7 p.m. every night and sleeps for about 10 hours, she still spends most of the day napping on and off in the living room.
“She doesn’t communicate much,” Palmer says. “I guess she just doesn’t want to be bothered?” But she always perks up when family members come over on Sundays for dinner, which is usually a BBQ feast.
Jones was the third-oldest of 11 siblings, born and raised in Lowndes County, Alabama, about an hour southwest of Montgomery. An aspiring teacher, she moved to New York City in 1923, where she ended up taking care of the children of wealthy families. Though married for a short time, she didn’t have kids, and so she always treated the ones she watched over as if they were her own.
These days, Jones is generally in good health, considering her age. Although she has been blind from glaucoma since she was 100, Jones only takes a multivitamin and a pill for her blood pressure every day. She never drank or smoked, but lace lingerie was her main vice. “She would save her money and then go to Bloomingdale’s,’” her niece, Selbra Mushatt, told TIME last year. “One time, when she had to get an EKG, the doctors and nurses were surprised to see her wearing that lingerie, and she said, ‘Oh sure, you can never get too old to wear fancy stuff.’”
Jones has also been a participant in the New England Centenarian Study at Boston Medical Center, the largest study of centenarians and their families worldwide. Its director, Thomas Perls, said last year that genetics likely explain why super-centenarians live so long: “You have to have some relatively rare combinations of a whole bunch of genes, probably hundreds, that will help people age more slowly or protect people from age-related diseases [dementia, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer].” In fact, he added, most super-centenarians are female, and that could be because this rare combination of genes is on the X chromosome, of which women boast two.
But to Jones and her family, how she has managed to live to 115 will always be a mystery. “How did she live this long?” Judge said Thursday. But Jones has usually attributed her longevity to faith in God. She turns 116 on July 6.
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