At 114 years old and counting, Besse Cooper says it's "rather great" to be the oldest person in the world.
She makes her 75-year-old son proud.
"We were delighted when she got to 100. We thought that was a great achievement," said Sid Cooper. "We never imagined she'd live to be the oldest person in the world."
Cooper, who is 114 years and 5 months old, assumed the mantle of the oldest living person after the death Monday of Eunice G. Sanborn of Jacksonville, Texas, according to the Los Angeles-based Gerontology Research Group. The group certifies supercentenarians — people who are 110 or older.
Cooper wears a string of pearls double-looped around her neck and spends her days sitting and sleeping. She now lives in a nursing home in Monroe, Ga., about 45 miles east of Atlanta. Her wheelchair has bright pink armrests embroidered with "Ms. Besse, 2010 114."
She was born in Sullivan County, Tenn., on Aug. 26, 1896, during the second term of President Grover Cleveland.
One of eight children, she was a tomboy and loved tagging along with her two older brothers, climbing trees and splashing in rivers. She carried that active lifestyle and love of outdoors into adulthood. That, plus good genes, is probably the secret to her longevity, her son said.
But Cooper has her own idea: "I mind my own business and I don't eat junk food," she said at her 113th birthday celebration, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Cooper lived on her own until she was 105 and stubbornly resisted leaving her house, Sid Cooper said. Her health has declined steeply in the last year or so, and she can't hear or see well, he said. Speaking seems to require effort.
She moved to Georgia to be a school teacher during World War I, her son said.
She married in the early 1920s and taught fourth through seventh grades in a two-room schoolhouse until her first child was born. Although she stopped teaching then, she was an avid reader until her eyes got too bad last year. She always insisted that her children get an education.
Married for about 40 years, Cooper has outlived her husband by nearly half a century. They had four children, about a dozen grandchildren, numerous great-grandchildren and a great-great-grandchild, Sid Cooper said.