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Oldest U.S. man, 112, dies in Sacramento

December 28, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
George Francis, the nation's oldest man who lived through both world wars, man's first walk on the moon and got to vote for the first black president, has died. He was 112. George Francis died Saturday of congestive heart failure at a nursing home in Sacramento, his son Anthony Francis, 81, said Sunday.

"He lived four years in the 19th century, 100 years in the 20th century, and 8 years in the 21st Century. We call him the man of three centuries," the son said.

UCLA gerontologist Dr. Stephen Coles, who maintains a list of the world's oldest people, said Francis lived to 112 years and 204 days.

With Francis' passing Walter Breuning of Montana, who's 112 years and 98 days old, becomes the country's oldest living man. Gertrude Baines of Los Angeles, 114, is the nation's oldest living person. The world's oldest person is Maria de Jesus of Portugal, who is 115 and 109 days old; and the oldest man is Tomoji Tanabe of Japan, who is 113 and 101 days, Coles said.

Francis, a wisp of a man who at his prime barely weighed more than 100 pounds, was born on June 6, 1896 in New Orleans. As an African American growing up in the South, much of Francis' early life was affected by the nation's racially oppressive Jim Crow laws.

His son says Francis tried to enlist in the U.S. Army during World War I, but was turned down because of his stature.

"We always attributed his longevity to his mental and physical toughness," his son said.

Francis quit school after the sixth grade, became an amateur boxer as a young man, and later worked as a chauffeur, an auto mechanic and a barber.

He lost his only wife, Josephine Johnson Francis, 63, in 1964 from cancer after fathering a son and three daughters.

His family said even in his waning days, Francis never lost his passion for politics. He voted for Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s, and cast his vote for Barack Obama in 2008.

In an interview with The Associated Press after Obama's victory, the wheelchair-bound Francis said he felt like jumping up and down.

"He is going to give black men a break in the world, and give them a better opportunity to live and make more money," Francis said. "For people who say voting doesn't matter, I think that's crazy."

Anthony Francis said his father was devoted to his family, and that he attributed his longevity to them.

"He said 'My children and my friends, I live off of them,"' he said.

Besides his four children, Francis is survived by 18 grandchildren, 33 great-grandchildren and 16 great-great grandchildren.


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