The oldest woman on earth dies at 116

Maria Esther de Capovilla who is recognized as the world's oldest person by Guinness World Records, has died at 116 years of age, her granddaughter said.

Capovilla died Sunday at 3 a.m. local time in a hospital in the coastal city of Guayaquil two days after coming down with pneumonia, said her granddaughter Catherine Capovilla. Her funeral was planned for Monday, AP reports.

Born on Sept. 14, 1889 - the same year as Charlie Chaplin and Adolf Hitler - Capovilla was married in 1917 and widowed in 1949.

Robert Young, senior consultant for Gerontology for Guinness World Records, said Elizabeth Bolden, of Memphis, Tennessee, is the likely successor as the oldest person.

"Guinness World Records will have to make an official announcement from London," he said. "For all practical purposes, the next oldest person is going to be presumed to be Elizabeth Bolden. She is 116, but she was born 11 months after Capovilla."

Capovilla was confirmed as the oldest living person on Dec. 9, 2005, after her family sent details of her birth and marriage certificates to the British-based publisher. Emiliano Mercado Del Toro, of Puerto Rico, retains the title as oldest man. He turned 115 last Monday.

Three of Capovilla's five children - Irma, Hilda, and son Anibal - are still alive, along with 12 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren, the last of whom was born in February 2003, Catherine Capovilla told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Capovilla was from a well-to-do Ecuadorean family that traced its lineage to Spanish nobility. "The family has a heraldic shield from the Spanish ancestry," said Young.

Her father was a colonel in Ecuador's army. In her youth, Capovilla liked to embroider, paint, play piano and dance the waltz at parties, the family said. She also visited a nearby plantation, where she would drink fresh milk from donkeys as well as cows.

She always ate three meals a day and never smoked or drank hard liquor - "Only a small cup of wine with lunch and nothing more," Irma told AP last December.

For the past 20 years, Capovilla had lived with her elder daughter, Hilda, and son-in-law, Martin.

Soon after celebrating her 100th birthday, Capovilla became bedridden and so weakened from a stomach ailment that a priest administered last rites. But she recovered.

"She was in good shape until she had a bout of pneumonia and she died unexpectedly. Her family was expecting to have a 117th birthday party," said Young, speaking from Atlanta. "They had recently said that she was in good shape."

Young said Capovilla's claim to the title as oldest person was particularly significant because of the wealth of supporting documentation her family provided to prove her age was authentic.

"Many times people claim to be extreme ages, however, often their age is either not verifiable or is fictitious," he said. "Even in the United States, we had a woman who claimed to be 118, and we investigated. It turned out she was 109."

Capovilla "had baptismal records, marriage records, children's birth certificates, she had an ID card, and she had several other records too, including doctors records," Young said. "When the planet Pluto was discovered, she was like 41 years old. She was like 22 years old when the Titanic sank."

Fervently religious, Capovilla took communion every Friday, and always joined the family for meals, often enjoying lentils and chicken for lunch, which she ate unassisted with fork and knife in small bites.

Capovilla liked to watch television, and read newspaper headlines, with some difficulty, but never with glasses. She had not been able to leave the house for nearly two years before Guinness World Records recognized her as the oldest person.

She was married to Antonio Capovilla, an Austrian sailor who came to Ecuador in 1910.