María Esther Heredia Lecaro de Capovilla, known internationally as María Capovilla (14 September 1889 – 27 August 2006), was an Ecuadorian supercentenarian, and, at the time of her death at age 116 years 347 days, was recognized by Guinness World Records as the world's oldest living person.
Born as María Esther Heredia Lecaro in Guayaquil, she was the daughter of a colonel, and lived a life among the upper-class elite, attending social functions and art classes. She never smoked or drank hard liquor. In 1917, she married a military officer, Antonio Capovilla, who died in 1949. Antonio, an ethnic Italian, was born in Pola, Austria-Hungary (now Pula, Croatia), in 1864. He moved to Chile in 1894 and then to Ecuador in 1910. After his first wife died, he married María. They had five children, three of whom were living at María's death: Hilda (81), Irma (80) and son Anibal (78). She also had twelve grandchildren, twenty great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.
At age 100, Maria nearly died and was given last rites, but had been free of health problems since then. In December 2005, at the age of 116, Maria was in good health for someone of her age and watched TV, read the paper and walked without the aid of a stick (though she was helped by an aide). Unfortunately, Maria was not able to leave her home in the two years before her death and she shared her home with her eldest daughter Hilda, and her son-in-law. In a media interview Maria stated her dislike of the fact that women nowadays are permitted to court men, rather than the reverse.
In March 2006, however, Capovilla's health had declined, and she was not able to read the newspaper any more. Maria had nearly stopped talking and no longer walked except when helped by two people. Still, Capovilla was able to sit in her chair and fan herself, and had been doing fine until she succumbed to a bout of pneumonia in the last week of August 2006, just 18 days before she would have celebrated her 117th birthday. Her life spanned three centuries and the rule of 33 elected Ecuadorian Presidents.
Capovilla was named the World's Oldest Person by Guinness World Records on 9 December 2005, thus superseding both Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper of the Netherlands thought to be the world's oldest person from 29 May 2004 to 30 August 2005, when she died, and Elizabeth Bolden of the United States, thought to be the world's oldest person from 30 August 2005 to 9 December 2005.
Guinness noted that "María Esther de Capovilla has beaten the odds – not only to live past 116, but to have the records to prove it." Their spokesman, Sam Knights, added in a telephone interview from London that "while a lot of the time it's difficult for people to prove their age, there was no problem with any of the documents we were shown in Mrs. Capovilla's case". Capovilla was finally added to the Guinness website on 12 April 2006.
At the time of her death at age 116 years 347 days, Capovilla was the fifth-oldest verified person to have ever lived.
Following her death on 27 August 2006, her successor as oldest person was Elizabeth Bolden, the previous "titleholder". Bolden became only the second person to regain the title after losing it (Frenchwoman and all-time world recordholder Jeanne Calment was the first).