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E. Mercado del Toro, 115; oldest person

January 25, 2007|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Emiliano Mercado del Toro was born in Puerto Rico when it was still a Spanish colony, and he trained as a soldier the year World War I ended.

On Wednesday, having spent just a month as the world's oldest person, he died at his home in the seaside town of Isabela on the northern coast of Puerto Rico, his grandniece Dolores Martinez told the Associated Press. He was 115.

"He died like a little angel," Martinez said.

Born Aug. 21, 1891, in Cabo Rojo on the southwest tip of the island, Mercado del Toro never married and had no children.

In an Associated Press interview in August on his 115th birthday, he attributed his longevity to eating right and abstaining from alcohol. He smoked for 76 years, kicking the habit at age 90. "I never thought I would last so long," he said.

Dr. Stephen Coles, whose Gerontology Research Group at UCLA studies people older than 110, said these so-called supercentenarians have avoided the traditional ailments that remove ordinary people from the population, the top three being, in order, heart disease, cancer and stroke.

"These people who live a long time and have escaped regular diseases usually have a strong and vital life," he said Wednesday.

Mercado del Toro joined the U.S. Army in October 1918 and trained in Panama for a month before the war ended Nov. 11.

He was discharged the next month and at age 27 returned to the sugar fields of Puerto Rico, where he worked until he was 80.

Blind for the last five years and increasingly hard of hearing, Mercado del Toro became the oldest known person in the world last month when 116-year-old Elizabeth "Lizzie" Bolden died at a nursing home in Tennessee.

A 114-year-old Connecticut woman, Emma Faust Tillman, is now believed to be the oldest living person. She was born Nov. 22, 1892.

According to the Gerontology Research Group's website, www.grg.org there are 36 women older than the oldest man in the world, Tomoji Tanabe of Japan, who was born Sept. 18, 1895.

Coles said researchers "honestly don't know" why there are more women than men older than 110.

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