Oldest survivor of San Francisco earthquake of 1906 dies

AP News
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Posted: Sep 02, 2015 9:21 PM
Oldest survivor of San Francisco earthquake of 1906 dies

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Ruth Newman was just a child living on an outlying ranch when the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 struck, but her memory of that day never faded, her daughter said.

"She would tell us she remembered my grandmother being upset because they had just milked the cow earlier and she had separated the cream and all and put it in containers that got thrown to the floor," said Newman's daughter Beverley Dodds, 85, of Fair Oaks, California.

Newman was the oldest remaining survivor of the earthquake before her death earlier this summer. She was 113.

Newman was 4 years old when the quake struck, shaking her home on a Healdsburg, California, ranch about 70 miles north of San Francisco the early morning of April 18, 1906.

"She remembered being downstairs and her father picking her up and running out of the house," Dodds said.

The family remained on the ranch, where she grew up, because the house wasn't damaged, Dodds said.

Newman passed away July 29 at her home in Pebble Beach, California, the coastal town where she and her late husband moved to after living in nearby Pacific Grove, Dodds said.

Her death leaves only one known earthquake survivor still living. William Del Monte, 109, was 3 months old when the earthquake hit, said Lee Houskeeper, an organizer of the quake's commemoration events.

More than 1,000 people were killed in the earthquake and fires. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, measurements of the 1906 quake have ranged from magnitude 7.7 to 8.3.

One of five children, Newman was a strong willed woman — she drove and played golf until her mid-90's — who always kept busy knitting, gardening and baking.

"She was a beautiful knitter and a fantastic seamstress," Dodds said. "She was one who couldn't sit down."

Newman and her late husband met at a dance. After marrying, they continued to go out dancing, even joining a dancing club in Sacramento, where they raised two children. The couple had an active social life and loved to entertain, Dodds said.

"They both loved to dress well. She made all her gowns to go dancing and most of my clothes when I was young," Dodds said.

She enjoyed great health throughout her life, which her daughter attributes to her "joie de vivre" or excitement about life.

Dodds said her parents would have a scotch with water every night before bed, a habit that could have helped her longevity. Though genes may have helped too. Two of Newman's siblings were also centenarians. Her older brother Barney Barnard lived to be 108, and their younger sister Genevieve Gully died at 103.

Newman never attended the annual earthquake commemorations events in San Francisco, which include gatherings at Lotta's Fountain in downtown before dawn, because she preferred to sleep in rather than rise before dawn to attend, her daughter said.

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This story has been corrected to show that Ruth Newman was 4, not 5, when the quake struck and that her daughter's last name is Dodds not Dobbs.