4 July 1898Lafayette County, Arkansas, United States


6 April 2015Camden, Arkansas, United States



Gertrude Weaver

Gertrude Tonpon Weaver (née Gaines) was an American supercentenarian who was, for five days, the oldest living person in the world following the death of Misao Okawa on 1 April 2015, until her death. Upon her death, Jeralean Talley became the world’s oldest validated living person. Weaver had the second-shortest reign of the world’s oldest living person on record, behind Emma Tillman, who held the title for only four days.

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Gertrude Weaver was born in Lafayette County, Arkansas in the year of 1898; her exact date of birth is unknown. Her parents, Charles Gaines (b. May 1861) and Ophelia Jeffreys (b. December 1866), worked as sharecroppers. She married Gennie Weaver on 18 July 1915 and had four children. She was widowed in 1969.

At the age of 104, she moved to the Silver Oaks Health and Rehabilitation Center in Camden, Arkansas after she broke her hip. With rehabilitation, she recovered from the injury and was able to move back to her home with the help of her granddaughter. At the age of 109, she returned to Silver Oaks Health and Rehabilitation. Her health declined somewhat after her 115th birthday in 2013 but she still left her room for meals and activities at the nursing home. Weaver did not have any chronic health problems typical of people her age; she slept well and did not drink alcohol or smoke.

Weaver told the Associated Press that three factors have contributed to her longevity: “Trusting in the Lord, hard work, and loving everybody.” Weaver added a fourth factor when she told Time magazine that trying to do your best is another factor adding: “Just do what you can, and if we can’t, we can’t” or, in other words, “Kindness”.

At the time of her 116th birthday in 2014, her son Joe was still alive at the age of 93 and turned 94 the day after his mother’s death. Joe died on 9 September 2018 at the age of 97.

On 6 April 2015, Weaver died from pneumonia at Silver Oaks Health and Rehabilitation Center at the age of 116 years, 276 days.

Uncertainty Over Date of Birth

Weaver was born in Arkansas in an era before birth registration was widespread throughout the American Deep South. Combined with lower literacy rates, many African Americans from this time period were unaware of their exact date of birth. While Weaver’s 1900 census match states a birthdate of “April 1898”, her Social Security Application lists her birthday as 4 July 1898; the Fourth of July was a common placeholder date used by the Social Security agency for applicants who didn’t know their birthday. If the month of birth given in her 1900 census match is to be believed, then Weaver would have been around 117 at the time of her death, although her age was more conservatively validated using the placeholder birthdate.

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At her 116th birthday celebration in 2014, the Gerontology Research Group (GRG) announced that they had verified Weaver’s age making her the oldest verified living American and they presented her with a plaque inscribed with her title as oldest American on it. The GRG and Guinness World Records established that Weaver was older than Jeralean Talley, who was previously thought to be the oldest; with Weaver’s death, Talley became the oldest verified individual in both the United States and the world. Weaver also received a letter from then-U.S. President Barack Obama and the Mayor of Camden declared her birthday “Gertrude Day.”

Weaver is currently the oldest validated person ever from the U.S. state of Arkansas, and the third-oldest validated person ever from the United States, behind Sarah Knauss and Susannah Mushatt Jones. She was the fourth to last surviving person from the 1800s as well as the third to last American from the 1800s.