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María Capovilla

Validated By: On Date: Dec. 09th 2005

María Capovilla was an Ecuadorian supercentenarian who was recognized by Guinness World Records as being the world's oldest validated living person at the time of her death. She was the last remaining validated person born in the 1880s. At 116 years and 347 days at the time of her death, she is the oldest validated person to have ever lived in Ecuador.


Born as María Esther Heredia Lecaro in Guayaquil, María was the daughter of a colonel. She lived a life among the upper-class elite and attended social functions and art classes. She never smoked or drank hard liquor. In 1917, she married a military officer, Antonio Capovilla who died in 1949. Antonio, an ethnic Italian, was born in Pola, Austria-Hungary (now Pula, Croatia) in 1864. He moved to Chile in 1894, and then to Ecuador in 1910. After his first wife died, he married María. They had five children, three of whom were still living at the time of her death: Hilda (81), Irma (80), and son Anibal (78). She also had 11 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren.

At the age of 100, María nearly died and was given last rites, but she had been free of health problems since then. On 14 September 1999, she became the first known living Ecuadorian supercentenarian ever. In December 2005, María was said to be in good health and was still able to watch TV, read the papers, and walk without the aid of a stick (though she was helped by an aide). However, she was unable physically to leave her home in the past two years, which she shared with her eldest surviving daughter, Hilda, and her son-in-law. In a media interview, María stated her dislike of the fact that women nowadays are permitted to court men, rather than the reverse.

By March 2006, María’s health had declined somewhat and was no longer able to read the newspaper. She had also nearly stopped talking and could no longer walk except when helped by two persons. Still, María was able to sit erect in her chair and fan herself and had been doing ‘fine’ until she succumbed to a bout of pneumonia in the last week of August 2006.

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Capovilla was validated and named the “World’s Oldest Person” by Guinness World Records on 9 December 2005, thus superseding both Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper (thought to be the world’s oldest person from 29 May 2004 t 30 August 2005) and Elizabeth Bolden (thought to be the world’s oldest person from 30 August 2005 to 9 December 2005).

Guinness noted that “María Esther de Capovilla has beaten the odds — not only to live past 116, but to have the records to prove it.” Their spokesman, Sam Knights, added in a telephone interview from London that “while a lot of the time it’s difficult for people to prove their age, there was no problem with any of the documents we were shown in Mrs. Capovilla’s case”. Capovilla was finally added to the Guinness website on 12 April 2006.

At the time of her death she was the fifth-oldest fully documented and officially validated person to have ever lived in three centuries.

Following her death in August 2006, her successor as oldest person was Elizabeth Bolden, the previous titleholder. Mrs. Bolden became only the second person to regain the title after losing it (Jeanne Calment was the first).

Capovilla held the record for being the oldest validated person ever from South America, until she was later surpassed by Francisca Celsa dos Santos of Brazil on 4 October 2021. Celsa dos Santos died the day after she broke Capovilla’s continental record.