Adelina Domingues, considered the oldest person in the United States by the Guinness Book of World Records, has died. She was 114.
Domingues died of congestive heart failure Wednesday afternoon at a San Diego-area nursing home, family members said.
A naturalized citizen of fiercely independent temperament and deep religious faith, she outlived her sea captain husband and four children and carried on a correspondence with Ronald Reagan while he was president.
"She believed in the American dream," said grandson Stephen Domingues. "If you gave her a microphone or an audience, she was ready to go."
Born in 1888 in modest circumstances on the Cape Verde Islands off West Africa, Domingues attributed her longevity to her daily regimen of eating vegetables and beans and her lifelong avoidance of alcohol and tobacco.
"She also thought she lived longer because she never played cards or went to a beauty parlor," said Bob Silva, a Palm Desert artist and friend of Domingues'. "She was very proud of that."
She did missionary work for the Church of the Nazarene in Africa and the Cape Verde Islands and was a vigorous street-corner preacher during her years in Boston and New Bedford, Mass. She occasionally sailed with her husband, Jose, on his voyages as the captain of merchant ships. He died of cancer in 1950.
On her 100th birthday, in heavily accented English, Domingues lectured a public gathering that too many Americans take freedom for granted.
"She believed people should be thankful that America was a place of such opportunity," said her grandson Stephen Domingues, who runs a program assisting low-income and disadvantaged students at UC Irvine.
She lived alone until she was 107, when she moved into a retirement facility. In recent years she used a wheelchair.
"She was a woman of passion and conviction," said granddaughter Debbie Murphy in Hookstown, Pa. Among other things, she refused to take medication. "I gave her some [sleeping medicine] once, and you would have thought I was trying to poison her," Murphy said.
Politically conservative, she became a pen pal of President Reagan. "She wasn't too pleased with President Clinton," Murphy said. "But she always said: 'I respect the office and will pray for the man.' "
Of her four children, only one lived beyond the teenage years. Frank Domingues, 71, died in 1998. "After my father died, she began to decline," Murphy said. "She believed God had a reason for everything he did."
Her father was an Italian harbor pilot, her mother of Portuguese ancestry. She married at age 19 and in 1907 traveled to America aboard the sailing schooner David Story. She helped found the Nazarene church in New Bedford and was an expert seamstress.
Her age was a matter of dispute. Based on wedding documents, she would have been 115. But her family, helped by diplomats from the Cape Verde Islands, established that her true age was 114. After the death this year of Maud Farris-Luse, 115, in Michigan, the Guinness Book of World Records bestowed on Domingues the title of oldest living American. She was also the second-oldest person in the world, according to Guinness.
A memorial service is being planned.