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Biography of Centenarian Katherine Plunket

About the English centenarian Katherine Plunket, biography and history, diet and advice for longevity.

A LESSON IN LONGEVITY

KATHERINE PLUNKET (1820-1932)

When she died on Oct. 14, 1932, just a few weeks short of her 112th birthday, Katherine Plunket was hailed as the oldest person in the history of England. Ada Giddings Rowe has since eclipsed that record, although by a slim 12-day margin, but few contend that there was ever a sprightlier 111-year-old person of any nationality.

Miss Plunket was born into a prestigious Irish family on Nov. 22, 1820, and while she spent most of her adult life in Ireland, she traveled widely upon the Continent in her youth. In the summer of 1825, when she was five years old and a guest at her uncle's home at Old Connaught, Ireland, she was dandled on the knee of Sir Walter Scott, who had come to visit. One hundred years later she was the only person alive who could boast of having actually met the English romanticist.

Miss Plunket was remarkably healthy throughout her life and, until she was bedridden with a nasty case of bronchitis at the age of 102, oversaw the upkeep of her home and gardens at Ballymascanlan House, the ancestral estate in County Louth. She recovered quickly and regained sufficient vitality to insist on having the newspapers read to her daily, but was advised by doctors to exert herself as little as possible. To be sure, rest had never been a problem for the woman, and she often claimed that she had never in her life suffered a bad night's sleep.

Writing in 1930, biographer W. Forbes Gray noted that "So far from dwelling continually in the past, [Miss Plunket's] mind is in intimate contact with the present, and she is by no means averse to speculating regarding the future. Her sympathies are strongly with the rising generation . . . and nothing gives her greater pleasure than the society of children, whom she plies with questions as to their pastimes and amusements."

For a long time after her 100th birthday, Miss Plunket continued to handle her own not insubstantial financial affairs and to sign her own checks; on at least one occasion, she sharply rebuked a relative who had offered her some investment counsel not to her liking.

Although Miss Plunket lived out her last years at Ballymascanlan alone, she had shared the estate in earlier years with Miss Gertrude, a younger sister whom she cared for with true sisterly solicitousness. At age 75, Miss Gertrude planned a visit to Dublin; the older woman, then in her 90s, thought Dublin was no place for an unescorted lady and assigned a companion to go with her. When, some nine years later, Miss Gertrude died at the age of 84, her sister was heartbroken, and many of the centenarian's friends feared she wouldn't survive the trauma. But she survived and flourished. Says biographer Gray, "The resumption of her old duties seemed to give her a new lease on life. At all events her health at this time was better than it had been for years."

Diet: Always a good if not ravenous eater, Miss Plunket was particularly fond of game. On her birthday she customarily feasted on roast turkey, plum pudding, and champagne.

Advice: Miss Plunket often ascribed her longevity to an unruffled, carefree approach to living.

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