Elizabeth Israel

From Academic Kids

Mione Elizabeth George Israel, known as Elizabeth Israel or Ma Pampo later in life, died October 14, 2003, having in her last years been the focus of one of the most widely publicized longevity myths of recent years.

According to her believers, who reached into the highest ranks of the government of her native Dominica, she was born January 27, 1875. However, no documents attesting to her reputed birthdate and dating to the first century of her alleged lifespan were ever produced. On the strength of an entry in a baptismal register as reproduced after a 1979 hurricane, a birth certificate for her was procured in 2000.

However, the baptismal register was a copy of a copy of the original, and the entry cited was for "Elizabeth Israel", which was the married, not birth, name of "Ma Pampo", besides her being known as Mione or Minette George for much of her life. What could be pieced together of her life indicated that she probably died a centenarian but not a supercentenarian. She worked as a crew chief on a plantation into the late 1970s, and had memories of the early 20th century but not reaching as far back as one would expect if her age were genuine.

The observed life expectancy on Dominica mandated that her claim be held to a high standard, besides the extremely high death rates among supercentenarians. However, her promoters sought to make up for lack of evidence with strongly worded demands that the Guinness Book of World Records accept the claim anyway. Disk jockey Alex Bruno, the initial advocate, established a foundation and promoted a play about her life, as well as seeking to promote tourism on Dominica based on its being a haven for longevity.

The claim of Elizabeth Israel to be the world's oldest person was only put forth in Dec 1999, when she was said to be 124 years old. However, if she were really born Jan 27 1875, she would have been the world's oldest person (or at least a contender) since Jan 1988, following the death of Florence Knapp. The question must be asked, if her age were legitimate, why did it take more than a decade to "discover" that she was the "world's oldest person?" A likely answer is that her age was exaggerated and that she was not born in 1875; the "longevity myth" of Ma Pampo is likely what was born in 1999. A documented extreme age tends to have a long "paper trail" that can be readily produced. Maude Farris-Luse only became world's oldest at 114, but her birthdays attracted press coverage as far back as her 98th.

This claimed lifespan six years longer than any that has actually been verified lingers in the assertions of those who wanted to accept it, but the task of convincing the scientific community that it was genuine was barely attempted and never came close to success. Elizabeth Israel herself was disabled by the time she became the focus of her frenetic promotion as world's oldest, and should not be remembered as having promoted herself, but she stands as a byword for uncritical acceptance of unsupported assertions.

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