Millvina Dean, last remaining survivor of the Titanic, dies aged 97

May 31, 2009
Story by Kaya Burgess

Nearly a century after she was rescued from the decks of the sinking Titanic, the last remaining survivor of the disaster has died, aged 97.

Elizabeth Gladys Dean, known as Millvina, died today at the nursing home near Southampton where her care had been subsidised by Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet — stars of the Titanic film — who were moved by her story.

Millvina, the youngest passenger on the ship, was 9 weeks old in April 1912 when she set sail for a new life in America with her mother, father and brother. The family, from London, were supposed to have emigrated on a different ship, but because of a coal strike were transferred to the Titanic, travelling third class.

On April 14, four days into the voyage, the ship struck an iceberg and Millvina's father told his wife, Georgette, to wrap up Millvina and her one-year-old brother, Bertram, and take them up on deck. Here, among scenes of chaos and panic, the infant Millvina was placed with her mother and brother aboard Lifeboat 10 and lowered into the icy waters of the North Atlantic, leaving her father behind on the dying liner.

He died, along with 1,516 others, as the ship hailed as unsinkable broke in two and slipped beneath the waves.

Millvina was lucky to survive, as she was among the first steerage passengers to be evacuated and join the flotilla of 706 stranded survivors.

They had to endure four hours in the dark, freezing waters until the Carpathia arrived to rescue them and take them to New York.

Exactly 98 years after the Titanic was launched from the quayside in Belfast, Miss Dean died at her nursing home at Ashurst in the New Forest today, a few miles from where she had boarded the ship at Southampton docks.

She had been in hospital last week and was believed to have been suffering from pneumonia.

When Barbara Dainton died at the age of 96 in October 2007, Miss Dean became the last survivor.

Last December, she was forced to sell several precious personal items to pay for medical care after she suffered a broken hip. Among the items was a compensation letter to her mother from the Titanic Relief Fund and a suitcase given to the family to store their few remaining belongings when they were taken back to England aboard the Adriatic.

The mementos were returned to Miss Dean by the person who had bought them at auction. Meanwhile, the stars of the film adaptation of the disaster, Titanic, were alerted to her financial plight and came to her aid. James Cameron, the director, and the actors Di Caprio and Winslet, donated £22,000 last month to the Millvina Fund to help to pay the £3,000-a-month cost of her care.

Even as a baby on the Adriatic which ferried her back to England she attracted attention. The Daily Mirror reported that she “was the pet of the liner during the voyage” with “rivalry between women to nurse this lovable mite of humanity”.

Miss Dean worked as a secretary and cartographer until her retirement. “My mum, brother and I were among the lucky ones,” she once said. “I put our survival down to the bravery of my father who was alert to the dangers and made sure we got off.”

© 2009 Kaya Burgessand
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