South Carolina woman could be oldest in U.S.; records unreliable

Posted: Tuesday, January 14, 2003

AIKEN, S.C. -- Gussie Brown sat underneath the hair dryer in Mattie C. Hall Care Center, held her hand up and examined her perfectly painted, mauve fingernails through squinting eyes.

Her hair, with the slightest blue tint to it, was done in curls to frame her weathered face.

The centenarian has spent the past two years of her life in the nursing home. She gets her hair and nails done every two weeks, unless she's just not feeling up for it, said nursing home employee Michelle Jenkins.

Brown's caregivers say she looks great for her age -- although not everyone agrees on what her age is.

Her nephew Aaron Green Jr. says she will be 114 in March, but he has no records he can produce to prove her age. Green said he is relying on family information passed down to him.

The closest census records that appear to be a match with Brown's family put a Gusty Green -- Green is her maiden name -- as being born in March 1899. That would make her 103.

If Brown is indeed 113, though, she would be the oldest person in the United States, said Robert Young, a senior case investigator at the Gerontology Research Group. The nonprofit organization specializes in aging and researches people age 110 and older.

Records to prove Brown's age are difficult to find because accurate birth records weren't kept until the 1930s, he said.

There are only 43 people in the world who are 110 or older with the papers to back it up, he said.

In this country, the most recent census reported that there are about 50,000 people over 100.

Green brought his aunt back to South Carolina from Arizona two years ago after her only daughter, Elizabeth Goins, died.

"I was born in Denmark," Brown said, referring to the town in Bamberg County, S.C. Since then, Green said, she has lived in Springfield and Blackville and in Savannah, Ga.

She had been away from her native state for about 50 years, Green said.

He and his wife, Joan, then moved back to Blackville from New York City so he could be close to the aunt whom he thought of as a mother.

"I was born in her house," he said, patting her hand.

"She would have done anything for me. If someone was sick back then, she was right there to take care of them."

He said the two have been blessed with a special bond since he was born in her house more than 70 years ago.

His aunt cooked, cleaned and reared other families' children for a living, he said.

When asked about her longevity, Brown shook her head.

"The good Lord knows about all that, not me. I don't have anything to do with it."

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