VERBANIA, Italy — Surrounded by relatives and neighbors, Italy’s Emma Morano greeted with a smile the news that she, at 116, is now the oldest person in the world.
Not only that, but Morano is believed to be the last surviving person in the world born in the 1800s, with a birthdate of Nov. 29, 1899. That’s just 4 ½ months after Susannah Mushatt Jones, who died Thursday in New York, also at 116.
Jones, who was born in Alabama in 1899, was the daughter of sharecroppers and granddaughter of slaves.
After graduating from high school she moved north in 1922 to New Jersey and then New York, where she worked as a housekeeper and childcare provider, according to Guinness World Records and the Vandalia Senior Center in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, where she lived.
Jones, who retired in 1965, had said that a lot of sleep was the secret to her longevity and that she had never smoked or drank alcohol.
Journalists on Friday descended on Morano’s home in Verbania, a northern Italian mountain town overlooking Lake Major, to document her achievement, but had to wait until she finished a nap to greet her. Morano lives in a neat one-room apartment, which she no longer leaves, and is kept company by a caregiver and two elderly nieces.
Morano told The Associated Press last year that she attributes her longevity to her unusual diet: Raw eggs every day — a diet she’s been on for decades after a sickly childhood. She said she is down to two raw eggs a day and 150 grams of raw steak after a bout of anemia.
“My father brought me to the doctor, and when he saw me he said, ‘Such a beautiful girl. If you had come just two days later, I would have not been able to save you.’ He told me to eat two or three eggs a day, so I eat two eggs a day,” she said at the time.
Her physician, Dr. Carlo Bava, is convinced there’s a genetic component to Morano’s longevity along with her positive attitude.
“From a strictly medical and scientific point of view, she can be considered a phenomenon,” he said last year, noting that Morano has been in stable, good health for years.
Italy is known for its centenarians — many of whom live on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia — and gerontologists at the University of Milan are studying Morano, along with a handful of Italians over 105, to try to figure out why they live so long.
During a visit last summer, Morano was in feisty spirits, displaying the sharp wit and fine voice that used to stop men in their tracks.
“I sang in my house, and people on the road stopped to hear me singing. And then they had to run, because they were late and should go to work,” she recalled, before breaking into a round of the 1930s Italian love song “Parlami d’amore Mariu.”
“Ahh, I don’t have my voice anymore,” she lamented.
The oldest verified person was Jeanne Calment of France, who died in 1997 at 122 years and 164 days, the research group said.