Nancy Palmieri/AP
Millvina Dean in a 1998 file photo.

Death of Last Titanic Survivor Marks the “End of an Era”

June 01, 2009 06:00 PM
by Denis Cummings
The last surviving passenger of the Titanic, 97-year-old Millvina Dean, died in her sleep Sunday morning.

Titanic Survivor Millvina Dean Dies at 97

Millvina Dean died on the 98th anniversary of the Titanic’s launch from its Belfast shipyard. The 97-year-old Dean had been hospitalized last week with pneumonia, but had recovered and been returned to her Southampton, England, nursing home, reports The Associated Press.

Dean was just 9 weeks old when the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank during its maiden journey in April 1912. She was lowered into a lifeboat in a sack and taken to safety along with her mother and 2-year-old brother, while her father perished on the ship.

Following the death of Barbara Joyce Dainton on Oct. 16, 2007, Dean became the last Titanic survivor. Dainton refused to talk about the tragedy, according to The Daily Telegraph. But Dean “in her later years embraced her part in the story of the Titanic,” reports The Biography Channel. She attended many Titanic-related events and told her story to whomever would ask.

“It is truly the end of an era,” International Titanic Society President Charles Haas told the BBC. “She was a truly remarkable woman. She had a marvellous approach to life. It is almost as if God gave her the gift and she really took advantage of it.”

Biography: Millvina Dean

Millvina Dean was born Elizabeth Gladys Dean on Feb. 2, 1912, in London. Just over nine weeks later, she was on board the Titanic in third-class with her father Bertram, mother Georgetta and 2-year-old brother Bertram.

The Dean family was immigrating to Wichita, Kan., where the elder Bertram intended to open a tobacco shop, says The Biography Channel. They had originally planned to board a different ship, but a coal strike forced them onto the Titanic instead.

On the night of April 14, the Titanic struck an iceberg southeast of Newfoundland and began to sink. Bertram raced his family to the deck, where “among scenes of chaos and panic, the infant Millvina was placed with her mother and brother aboard Lifeboat 10 … leaving her father behind on the dying line,” writes The Times of London.

Dean, as the ship’s youngest passenger and since 2007 its last surviving passenger, received a great deal of attention during her life. “I like it, because everyone makes such a fuss of me!” she said, according to the BBC. “And I have travelled to so many places because of it, meeting all the people. Oh I wouldn't get tired of it. I'm not the type.”

In the past year she had difficulty paying her £3,000 ($4,500)-a-month medical costs at her nursing home in Southampton, England, the city from which the Titanic set off and in which Dean spent most of her life. She had been forced to auction off her Titanic memorabilia, including the canvas bag that may have been used to lower her into the lifeboat, which was immediately donated back to Dean by the buyer.

She received aid from Irish author and photographer Don Mullan, who this spring convinced “Titanic” stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio and director James Cameron to donate $30,000 to the Millvina Fund, a charity paying for her care.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines