Omahan Thelma Sutcliffe doesn’t give a hoot about being America’s oldest living person, but she bristles at the restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“She’s just looking forward to the day that I can finally eat with her in the dining room again,” said Luella “Lou” Mason, a longtime friend. “She tells me, ‘I know we have to go by the rules, but I don’t like it.’ “
Sutcliffe, born Oct. 1, 1906, and Mason became friends while living at Elmwood Tower near 52nd and Leavenworth Streets. They have remained close since Thelma moved in 2017 to Brighton Gardens senior living center near 93rd Street and Western Avenue.
The Gerontology Research Group said Sutcliffe became the nation’s oldest living person and seventh-oldest in the world on April 17 when Hester Ford, a 115-year-old woman, died in North Carolina. The second-oldest American is Maria Branas Morera, who was born in California on March 4, 1907. She now lives in Spain.
“I’m happy (Brighton Gardens) is keeping things locked down because it’s keeping everyone healthy, but Thelma is as determined as ever to do what she wants to do,” Mason said. “She asks me every time I visit, ‘Are you going to eat with me today?’ It breaks my heart that I can’t.”
Until visitors are allowed in the dining room, Thelma is taking all her meals in her room. Mason, who has Sutcliffe’s power of attorney, calls the senior living center 24 hours ahead of time to schedule visits. Sutcliffe’s hearing and sight are fading, Mason said, but her mind is still “very sharp.”
Sutcliffe received her COVID shots at the earliest opportunity, Mason said. Testing her for the coronavirus, however, proved to be a non-starter.
“They went in to test her for COVID and they told her that I had approved the test,” Mason said. “She looked at (the swab) and looked up at the person holding it and said, ‘You’re not going to be sticking that thing up my nose. You can tell Lou to stick it up hers.’ “
At 114 years of age and 209 days as of Wednesday, Sutcliffe has lived through two World Wars, the 1918 flu pandemic and countless other calamities. Married in 1924, her husband, Bill, died in the 1970s. The couple had no children. A 93-year-old nephew living in Arizona typically visits her on her birthday.
Mason said Sutcliffe brushes off talk about her longevity, including her status as the nation’s oldest person. She is “very particular about her appearance,” Mason said, and doesn’t allow photos unless everything is just right.
“As far as her age, she doesn’t believe in worrying at all,” Mason said. “She always says, ‘What good does it do to worry?’ I think that’s how you live to be 114 years old.”