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Julie Bertrand, 115; Canadian was world's oldest woman for a month

January 20, 2007|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Julie Winnefred Bertrand, the world's oldest woman at 115, has died at a Montreal nursing home, according to Canadian media reports.

Bertrand, born Sept. 16, 1891, in the Quebec town of Coaticook not far from the Vermont border, died in her sleep early Thursday at the nursing home where she had lived for the last 35 years, her nephew told the Gazette in Montreal.

"She just stopped breathing," said Andre Bertrand, 73. "That's a nice way to go."

Bertrand became the world's oldest woman last month, after the death at 116 of Elizabeth Bolden, a Tennessee woman born Aug. 15, 1890, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

The designation made her an instant celebrity. Bertrand's niece, Elaine Sauciere, said the fame her aunt achieved late in life was "unbelievable."

"This little woman sold clothes at a department store in Coaticook," said Sauciere, 70.

Emma Tillman of Hartford, Conn., who turned 114 on Nov. 22, is now the oldest living woman in the world, said Dr. Stephen Coles of the Gerontology Research Group. The UCLA-based organization tracks "supercentenarians," or people over 110.

A British film crew had just requested an interview with Bertrand for a documentary on people who live long. The work also features Emiliano Mercado del Toro of Puerto Rico, the world's oldest person, who was born 26 days before Bertrand.

Andre Bertrand said his aunt never had a problem saying no -- and did so to dozens of journalists, filmmakers and medical researchers intent on discovering her secret to long life.

"She was tough, feisty and self-sufficient," Bertrand said.

Known as "Winnie," she was the eldest of six children born to a harness maker, Napoleon Bertrand, and his Irish wife, Julia Mullins.

Bertrand never married but had her suitors, Sauciere said, adding that it was difficult to say how close she may have been to Louis St. Laurent, a young lawyer who went on to become prime minister of Canada in the 1940s.

"She was friends with his sister, and I think she was sweet on him, but how serious it was, I don't know," Sauciere told the Gazette.

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