Although she sleeps more than anything else, 115-year-old Julie Winnefred Bertrand, Canada's oldest living person, continues to break longevity records.
Montrealer now world's 2nd-oldest living person
Mme Bertrand, who was born in Coaticook in the Eastern Townships on Sept. 16, 1891, has just become the world's second-oldest living person.
With last week's death of Elizabeth Bolden of Tennessee, born Aug. 15, 1890, Mme Bertrand is one step closer to becoming the world's oldest living person.
Mme Bertrand, who resides in a Montreal nursing home, moved from third to second place on an international list of supercentenarians (110-year-olds and older) verified by a group of demographers and gerontologists.
Only 26 days separate her and the world's oldest known living person, Emiliano Mercado del Toro of Puerto Rico, born Aug. 21, 1891.
But yesterday, Mme Bertrand's 74-year-old nephew, Andre Bertrand, said his aunt is unaware of the record she holds and, even if she were, she wouldn't be impressed by it.
"It's not something she would want to brag about," Bertrand said.
"She has always been very reserved and dignified," he added.
"An old spinster, really."
Julie Winnefred Bertrand was born the eldest of six children of harness maker Napoleon Bertrand and his Irish wife, Julia Mullins.
A woman who knew her mind and wasn't afraid to show it, "Winnie" worked as a buyer for Magasin F.X.
Lajoie, a department store in Coaticook, her nephew said.
Although she never married, he added, she was once courted by Louis St. Laurent, a young lawyer from Compton, who later became prime minister.
In her later years, she cared for her aging parents and, after their deaths, she moved to Montreal.
For 30 years, she has resided at Residences Berthiaume du Tremblay, a long-term-care facility on Gouin Blvd. E.
Bertrand said that although his aunt's hearing and ability to talk have diminished over the past two years, she is still able to make clear what she wants.
"She's far from being cuckoo," he said. "She recognizes me and points to what she needs.
"She is rather passive now. But she does have periods of activity in which she sits in her chair, and she eats her meals sometimes by herself."
Bernard Jeune, a Danish gerontologist at the Aging Research Centre at the University of Southern Denmark, recently travelled to Montreal to meet Mme Bertrand.
"It's really quite something if you can reach 115 without being demented and with your faculties," Jeune said.
As human longevity increases, he said, it's important for health and social policy-makers to have a better idea of life beyond 100 years of age.
Together, he and French demographer Jean-Marie Robine of the University of Montpellier have assessed dozens of old people living throughout the world.
Jeanne Louise Calment, the world's all-time oldest living person before she died in France in 1977 at the age of 122, was Robine's first subject.
They are trying to put together a "new general theory on population aging," a picture of the life enjoyed by supercentenarians.
There are 78 supercentenarians living in the world today.
However, when the fact-finding team arrived in Montreal last month, Mme Bertrand was in the middle of a two-day nap and couldn't be roused.
"It happens," Jeune said resignedly. "In this business, you get used to your subjects sleeping."
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the fourth oldest (authenticated) supecentenarian:
Marie-Louise Meilleur (1880-1998)
the third oldest (authenticated) supecentenarian:
Lucy Hannah (1875-1993)
the second oldest (authenticated) supecentenarian:
Sarah Knauss (1880-1999)
The world's oldest ever supercentenarian:
Jeanne Calment (1875-1997)
and further reading
The Indy Gene
Yoda the Ancient
Reengineering the body?
Stress, telomerase and aging
Caloric restriction prolongs life
New treatments for aging brains
World's Oldest Supercentenarians
Julie Winnefred Bertrand (Wikipedia)
The world's oldest ever supercentenarian: Jeanne Calment