Next Sunday, February 21st is Jeanne Calment's birthday. Were she still with us she would be 141. On that day many of us aging watchers will drink a birthday toast to her memory, as she uniquely showed how long and how well life can be lived, 122. So far as we know the oldest person EVER!
Her life history is well documented. Her doctor Jean-Marie Robine wrote a lovely book about her . Several years back he visited us here at Stanford and delighted in teaching about this oldest person . Certainly the fact that she lived to be 122 is no proof that any of us will even approach that mark, but we might. Like Hillary climbing Everest or Bannister breaking the four-minute mile the fact that it has been done now means that it can be done again.
Now the record of the oldest living person devolves upon Misao Okawa, age 118 in Japan. The oldest living American is Jerala Talley, 116, in Georgia.
We in the aging game were provided yearly progress reports at our meetings by her doctors. On one such visitation information was provided that her general health status including psychologic diaries was better at age 119 than it was at 118. No slowing down there!
She was 14 years of age in 1887 when the Eiffel tower was completed. She was 65 when in 1940 the Germans entered Paris In WW II. She met van Gogh and sold him crayons in 1888 when she was 18. She reported that he was "very ugly, ungracious, impolite, and sick. But I figured that I had to excuse him because every one said that he was loco."
She was born a year before the telephone was discovered. She was up and about until she died. She actually rode her bike until she was 100, and gave up smoking her two daily cigarettes four years before she died. Her family's longevity indicated that her mother lived to 85, her father to 94. At 114 she broke her hip. She stood 4'6" tall and weighed 88 pounds. She ran to town to celebrate her hundredth birthday. She insisted on getting lots of exercise including many sports such as tennis. She also did fencing, ice-skating rollerskating, cycling, and swimming. She liked long distance hikes. She did exercises every morning, even several times a day flexing exercises to keep her joints supple, and had full movement in all her joints, and didn't fail to make this known to those who would listen. She had a particular liking for Port wine.
My favorite story about her concerns the French practice of viager in which a younger person can assume the mortgage of an older person with the promise that upon the person's death the supporter would receive the property. She made this bargain with a French lawyer when she was eighty and she was still enjoying his proceeds when she died. The French lawyer had long since expired.
In an article in Time Magazine August 15, 1997 that reported her death, she was quoted"that I only ever had one wrinkle, and I'm sitting on it." In 1996, as if to establish her claim to posterity she recorded a rap CD, Maitresse du Temps ( Time's Mistress.)
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Jeanne. Rest in peace.