Titanic Society says last survivor dies at 97
May 31, 3:40 PM (ET)
LONDON (AP) - The Titanic International Society says Millvina Dean, the last survivor of the sinking of the Titanic, has died.
The society's president, Charles Haas, tells The Associated Press that Dean died Sunday at age 97. He said she was suffering from pneumonia and her companion, Bruno Nordmanis, had called the Swiss branch of the society to say she had passed away.
Dean was just over two months old when the Titanic hit an iceberg on the night of April 14, 1912, sinking less than three hours later.
She was cared for at a nursing home in southern England. A staff nurse said no one could comment until administrators came on duty Monday.
"Titanic" stars Leonardo diCaprio and Kate Winslet donated money this month to help pay Dean's nursing home fees.
Millvina Dean, Titanic’s Last Survivor, Dies at 97
By JOHN F. BURNS for The New York Times
Published: May 31, 2009
LONDON — Millvina Dean, who as an infant passenger aboard the Titanic was lowered into a lifeboat in a canvas mail sack and lived to become the ship’s last survivor, died Sunday at a nursing home in Southampton, the English port from which the Titanic embarked on its fateful voyage, according to staff at the home.
She was 97 and had been in poor health for several weeks.
The youngest of the ship’s 705 survivors, Ms. Dean was only 9 weeks old when the Titanic hit an iceberg in waters off Newfoundland on the night of April 14, 1912, setting off what was then considered the greatest maritime disaster in history.
She survived with her mother, Georgetta, and 2-year-old brother when they, like many other survivors, were picked up by the liner Carpathia and taken to New York.
Her father, Bertram Dean, was among more than 1,500 passengers and crew members who died in the sinking, a fact that Ms. Dean, in an interview at the Southampton nursing home last month, attributed partly to the fact that the Dean family was traveling in third class, or steerage, as the cheapest form of passage was known.
Some versions of the disaster have contended that the crew was under orders to give priority aboard lifeboats to first- and second-class passengers, and even that doors were kept locked that would have given people in steerage faster access to the lifeboats through parts of the ship dedicated to higher-paying passengers. Though these assertions have been disputed, Ms. Dean said that she believed them to be true, and that her father might otherwise have survived.
“It couldn’t happen nowadays, and it’s so wrong, so unjust,” she said, emphasizing her point with a line from a Rudyard Kipling poem about class distinctions in the British Army in colonial India: “What do they say? ‘Judy O’Grady and the colonel’s lady are sisters under the skin.’ That’s the way it should have been that night, but it wasn’t.”
Mr. Dean, 29, who had been running a pub in London, was taking his family to a new life in Kansas City, Mo., where a cousin who immigrated before him had helped buy a tobacconist’s shop that Mr. Dean planned to run. But with the family breadwinner gone, his widow spent only a week in New York before returning with her children to England.
Millvina Dean — a name she used throughout her life, though she was christened Elizabeth Gladys Dean — spent her early years on a farm owned by her grandfather, a Southampton veterinarian.
She never married and spent her working life as an assistant and secretary in small businesses in Southampton. Among other jobs, she worked at a greyhound racing track and, during World War II, in the British government’s map-making office. For more than 20 years, until she retired, she worked in an engineering office.
The celebrity that came from being part of the disaster, and eventually living almost a century beyond it, was something she always had trouble grasping. She told visitors in later years that she was “such an ordinary person” that she found it surprising that anybody took much interest in her.
In the nursing home interview, she said that for decades after the sinking, she never spoke of it or her part in it to people she met or worked with. She said she had not thought it appropriate, partly because she remembered nothing about it and partly because she did not want to be seen as drawing attention to herself.
But that changed, she said, after Sept. 1, 1985, when a joint French-American team located the wreck of the Titanic, in water more than 2 miles deep, 370 miles east of Mistaken Point, Newfoundland. That set off a wave of interest in the ship and its fate that crested in 1996 with James Cameron’s blockbuster movie “Titanic,” starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.
“Nobody knew about me and the Titanic, to be honest, nobody took any interest, so I took no interest either,” she said. “But then they found the wreck, and after they found the wreck, they found me.”
In the last 20 years of her life, she went to gatherings in the United States, Canada and a handful of European countries to participate in events related to the sinking.
Ms. Dean said all she knew of what happened during the sinking she had learned from her mother: “She told me that they heard a tremendous crash, and that my father went up on deck, then came back down again and said, ‘Get the children up and take them to the deck as soon as possible, because the ship has struck an iceberg.’ ”
On deck, mother and daughter were separated from father and son, and it was only at daylight, hours after they boarded the Carpathia, that she and her mother were reunited with her brother, Bertram Vere Dean. A carpenter, he died in 1997.
After failing health forced her to move to the nursing home, Ms. Dean, struggling to pay the residential cost of nearly $5,000 a month, began selling her Titanic mementos at auction, including a canvas mailbag that her mother used to carry the few belongings the family acquired during its week in New York.
She had hoped that the mailbag would prove to be the one used to lower her into the lifeboat, but when experts decided it was not, it brought only £1,500, about $2,400.
“Such a pity,” Ms. Dean said in the interview, with a quick smile. “If it had been the mailbag they used for me, it would have been £100,000!”
In recent weeks, news accounts of her plight caught the attention of Ms. Winslet and Mr. DiCaprio, and they, together with Mr. Cameron, contributed to the Millvina Fund, set up to meet the nursing home costs.
Ms. Dean died, on the 98th anniversary of the ship’s launching, without ever having seen the movie, which she attributed to reluctance to be reminded of what happened to her father. “It would have made me think, did he jump overboard or did he go down with the ship?’” she said. “I would have been very emotional.”
As for her own survival, she said that as a “very down-to-earth person,” she had little time for the metaphysical speculations urged on her over the years about why fate, or divine providence, had chosen her to survive the sinking as an infant, then allowed her to outlive everyone else who escaped.
“Heaven and hell — how can you believe in something up in the sky?” she said. Then, smiling again, she added, “Still, I’d love to be proved wrong.”
A version of this article appeared in print on June 1, 2009, on page B8 of the New York edition.
Last survivor of 'unsinkable' Titanic dies at 97
Jun 1, 12:14 AM (ET)
By MEERA SELVA and JILL LAWLESS
LONDON (AP) - Millvina Dean, who as a baby was wrapped in a sack and lowered into a lifeboat in the frigid North Atlantic, died Sunday, having been the last survivor of 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic.
She was 97 years old, and she died where she had lived - in Southampton, England, the city her family had tried to leave behind when it took the ship's ill-fated maiden voyage, bound for America.
She died in her sleep early Sunday, her friend Gunter Babler told the Associated Press. It was the 98th anniversary of the launch of the ship that was billed as "practically unsinkable."
Babler said Dean's longtime companion, Bruno Nordmanis, called him in Switzerland to say staff at Woodlands Ridge Nursing Home in Southampton discovered Dean in her room Sunday morning. He said she had been hospitalized with pneumonia last week but she had recovered and returned to the home.
A staff nurse at the nursing home said late Sunday that no one would comment until administrators came on duty Monday morning.
Dean just over 2 months old when the Titanic hit an iceberg on the night of April 14, 1912. The ship sank in less than three hours.
Dean was one of 706 people - mostly women and children - who survived. Her father was among the 1,517 who died.
Babler, who is head of the Switzerland Titanic Society, said Dean was a "very good friend of very many years."
"I met her through the Titanic society but she became a friend and I went to see very every month or so," he said.
The pride of the White Star line, the Titanic had a mahogany-paneled smoking room, a swimming pool and a squash court. But it did not have enough lifeboats for all of its 2,200 passengers and crew.
Dean's family were steerage passengers setting out from the English port of Southampton for a new life in the United States. Her father had sold his pub and hoped to open a tobacconists' shop in Kansas City, Missouri, where his wife had relatives.
Initially scheduled to travel on another ship, the family was transferred to the Titanic because of a coal strike. Four days out of port and about 600 kilometers (380 miles) southeast of Newfoundland, the ship hit an iceberg. The impact buckled the Titanic's hull and sent sea water pouring into six of its supposedly watertight compartments.
Dean said her father's quick actions saved his family. He felt the ship scrape the iceberg and hustled the family out of its third-class quarters and toward the lifeboat that would take them to safety. "That's partly what saved us - because he was so quick. Some people thought the ship was unsinkable," Dean told the British Broadcasting Corp. in 1998.
Wrapped in a sack against the Atlantic chill, Dean was lowered into a lifeboat. Her 2-year-old brother Bertram and her mother Georgette also survived.
"She said goodbye to my father and he said he'd be along later," Dean said in 2002. "I was put into lifeboat 13. It was a bitterly cold night and eventually we were picked up by the Carpathia."
The family was taken to New York, then returned to England with other survivors aboard the rescue ship Adriatic. Dean did not know she had been aboard the Titanic until she was 8 years old, when her mother, about to remarry, told her about her father's death. Her mother, always reticent about the tragedy, died in 1975 at age 95.
Born in London on Feb. 2, 1912, Elizabeth Gladys "Millvina" Dean spent most of her life in the English seaside town of Southampton, Titanic's home port. She never married, and worked as a secretary, retiring in 1972 from an engineering firm.
She moved into a nursing home after breaking her hip about three years ago. She had to sell several Titanic mementoes to raise funds, prompting her friends to set up a fund to subsidize her nursing home fees. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, the stars of the film "Titanic," pledged their support to the fund last month.
For most of her life Dean had no contact with Titanic enthusiasts and rarely spoke about the disaster. Dean said she had seen the 1958 film "A Night to Remember" with other survivors, but found it so upsetting that she declined to watch any other attempts to put the disaster on celluloid, including the 1997 blockbuster "Titanic."
She began to take part in Titanic-related activities in the 1980s, after the discovery of the ship's wreck in 1985 sparked renewed interest in the disaster. At a memorial service in England, Dean met a group of American Titanic enthusiasts who invited her to a meeting in the U.S.
She visited Belfast to see where the ship was built, attended Titanic conventions around the world - where she was mobbed by autograph seekers - and participated in radio and television documentaries about the sinking.
Charles Haas, president of the New-Jersey based Titanic International Society, said Dean was happy to talk to children about the Titanic. "She had a soft spot for children," he said. "I remember watching was little tiny children came over clutching pieces of paper for her to sign. She was very good with them, very warm."
In 1997, Dean crossed the Atlantic by boat for the first time, on the QEII luxury liner, and finally visited Kansas City, declaring it "so lovely I could stay here five years." She was active well into her 90s, but missed the commemoration of the 95th anniversary of the disaster in 2007 after breaking her hip.
Dean had no memories of the sinking and said she preferred it that way. "I wouldn't want to remember, really," she told The Associated Press in 1997. She opposed attempts to raise the wreck 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) from the sea bed.
"I don't want them to raise it, I think the other survivors would say exactly the same," she said in 1997. "That would be horrible."
The last survivor with memories of the sinking - and the last American survivor - was Lillian Asplund, who was 5 at the time. She died in May 2006 at the age of 99. The second-last survivor, Barbara Joyce West Dainton of Truro, England, died in October 2007 aged 96.