Oldest Graduate Dies

March 31, 2005

 

Oldest Graduate Dies Ruby Lee Markham Drakeford '12

Ruby Lee Markham Drakeford '12, Duke's oldest graduate, died December 29, less than a month before her 113th birthday. A retired schoolteacher, she was North Carolina's oldest resident and the tenth-oldest person in the world.

Drakeford was born in Durham on January 25, 1892, and graduated from Trinity College, now Duke University, the year the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank. Other family members, now deceased, who graduated from Trinity College were her brothers, Allan B. Markham '16 and Edwin C. Markham '23, and her sisters, Rebecca Markham Durham '22 and Katherine Markham Johnson '30. Her husband, William W. Drakeford '49, died in 1955.

According to the Gerontology Research Group at the University of California at Los Angeles, Drakeford was the fourth-oldest documented American and the tenth-oldest documented person in the world. The group said she was listed in the 1900 U.S. Census as eight years old.

Drakeford taught in Mount Olive near Goldsboro for a year before returning to her hometown to teach at Edgemont Elementary School in Durham. She retired in 1957. According to family members, she was a fan of desserts, Western novels, and The New York Times crossword puzzle. Drakeford enjoyed watching the TV game show Jeopardy! at Hillcrest Convalescent Center, where she had lived since 1991, said her nephew, Allan B. Markham Jr. '62.

According to Robert Young, senior claims investigator for the Gerontology Research Group, nine of every ten people who live beyond 110 are women, have long-lived relatives, are usually "not fat," and "tend to manage stress well." He said another likely contributing factor to Drakeford's longevity was that she did not have children.

"She was a born schoolteacher," Markham told the Raleigh News & Observer. "She always kept her nephews and nieces in line. Above everything else, she was truly a lady in every respect."