January 30, 2007
By JIM FARRELL, Courant Staff Writer
EAST HARTFORD -- Emma Faust Tillman wanted to be remembered for having lived a good Christian life rather than having been the world's oldest person.
So said John Stewart Jr. on Monday, a day after his great-aunt died at age 114.
"The last thing she said was, `Don't forget my love for the church,'" said Stewart, adding that Tillman was with family members when she died peacefully Sunday about 10 p.m.
Tillman was declared the world's oldest person Wednesday, following the death of 115-year-old Emiliano Mercado Del Toro of Puerto Rico. She slept through much of that day and had not been able to eat since Friday, according to Stewart, who said family members received a spate of media inquiries in the past few days as well as an invitation to bring Tillman to the White House in mid-February.
He said he is saddened by her loss but grateful for her longevity.
"We see this as a celebration of her life - for her to have seen so many things," he said.
Born Nov. 22, 1892, to former slaves in North Carolina, she was one of 23 children.
The Faust family moved to Glastonbury in 1900 and Emma later married and moved to Hartford. A widow for 70 years, she lived by herself until she was 110 and then moved to the Riverside Health and Rehabilitation Center in East Hartford.
Karen Chadderton, an administrator at the center, said staff and residents were saddened by Tillman's death but proud of her accomplishment.
"We were all excited for her, that she made it," Chadderton said. "None of us is going to live forever, but 114 years? That's a pretty good effort."
Tillman's survivors include daughter Marjorie Tillman, who is 81.
Robert Young, a consultant for Guinness World Records, said Tillman's tenure as the oldest known living person was the shortest on record.
Young said another Japanese woman, 114-year-old Yone Minagawa, is now considered the oldest person in the world pending verification. She was born Jan. 4, 1893.
Tillman's life has been well-chronicled in recent years, including her long-term involvement with the Metropolitan A.M.E. Zion Church in Hartford and social activities such as trips to the casino.
Information about her youth, though, is more elusive.
In 1993, Glastonbury resident Kathleen Housley interviewed Tillman and her then 108-year-old brother, Eugene, for a profile that was published in the town's historical society newsletter.
According to Housley, the Fausts left the South in part because of the Ku Klux Klan and the threat of lynching. They came to Glastonbury, which had about 4,000 residents in 1900, to work at one of the town's many tobacco farms.
Emma sang in the church choir, according to the story, and played shortstop during baseball games at the town green. She also attended local schools, including Glastonbury High.
Susan Motycka, a member of the town's historical society, spent part of Monday searching for records of Emma's education and discovered a leather-bound book listing the grades of the 22 freshmen enrolled at Glastonbury High School in 1908-09.
"Here she is," Motycka said, after flipping deep into the ledger, which had been stored in a glass display case. "Emma M. Faust."
Emma's grades were divided into trimesters and were mostly B's and C's. Her courses were English, Algebra, English History & Civics, and Commercial Arithmetic.
Motycka said she did not find Emma's name in any other records.
"We're just so lucky to have these," she said.
Stewart had much the same to say about the family's memories.
"She was aware," he said of the hubbub about Emma's distinction during the past few days.
"But it was not important to her. It was like, `I'm ready to go when the man upstairs is ready to take me.'"
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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