America's Oldest Person Dies at Age 114

The Boston Globe reports, Mary Josephine Ray, who died in her sleep Sunday at the age of 114, had been recognized as the oldest person in the United States and the second-oldest person in the world. As she climbed the ranks of the world’s most aged, she would say she owed her longevity to God alone. But another reason, her family believes, was that she welcomed each day with gratitude and wonder.

“She always lived in the present, every day,’’ said her granddaughter, Kathy Ray. “She took each day as it came. She lived in the moment and never gave a thought to dying.’’

Ray reveled in the attention that came with her advancing age. She loved her birthdays, which reunited far-flung family and featured a barbershop group that would serenade her a cappella. Now and then she would get letters from strangers who wanted to meet her or an autograph request.

Ray was just a few days younger than the oldest person in the world, Kama Chinen of Japan, who is 114 years and 303 days. Ray lived to 114 years, 294 days.There are now 75 people aged 110 or older in the world (known as super centenarians), according to the Gerontology Research Group in Los Angeles. All but three are women.

Ray was taking part in the New England Centenarian Study at Boston Medical Center, the world’s largest study of the possible reasons behind centenarians’ longevity. Thomas Perls, a geriatrics professor who directs the study, said Ray’s mental abilities remained remarkably strong in her final years.

While centenarians have become relatively common in the United States, with 74,000 now and a projected 600,000 by midcentury, super centenarians like Ray remain incredibly scarce. Just 1 in 7 million people live to 110, Perls said. They are considered medical marvels who seem almost impervious to the normal aging process.

In Ray’s case, her powerful genes seemed to bestow remarkable vitality. Ray was a resolute optimist, Wilson said, who had a wonderful sense of humor and loved the little things.

“She would always joke and laugh and smile,’’ he said. “She would break into song, recite poetry, at the drop of the hat. The staff got very attached to her, and we are all going to miss her a great deal.’’

Ray had managed to lead a robust life long after relatives assumed she would need care. After her husband died, she moved to Florida and lived on her own for years. Well past 100, she only reluctantly agreed to a nursing home. “She asked if there were any men there,’’ Kathy Ray said. “That seemed to help.’’

Ray’s sight and hearing were failing in recent years, forcing her family to write questions in large letters on a white board. But her overall health remained strong, and her mind remained nimble.

Born Mary Arsenault in Prince Edward Island in 1895, she moved to Maine at age 3. Her father died when she was 7, and at 15, when her mother died, she was on her own.  She had stopped attending school at a young age to help care for her six siblings but learned on her own. “She was a self-taught woman,’’ Ray said.

She leaves two sons, Robert B. Ray of Pensacola, Fla., and Donald K.Ray of Westmoreland; eight grandchildren, 13 great grandchildren, five great-great grandchildren. For more, read the story.

Robert W. Carter,Jr. is a Virginia attorney whose law practice is dedicated to protecting the rights of the victims of nursing home and assisted living neglect and abuse in Richmond, Roanoke, Norfolk, Lynchburg,Danville, Charlottesville, and across Virginia.

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