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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

At 112, ‘Don Chep’ was Yucatán’s oldest man — or maybe not

'Don Chepe' never shook his nickname after a bad haircut in 1914

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Lee Steele
Lee Steele is the founding director of Roof Cat Media and has published Yucatán Magazine and other titles since 2012. Sign up for our weekly newsletters, so our top headlines will appear in your inbox each Monday and Thursday.
Jorge Durán y Coral celebrated his 112th birthday earlier this year. Photo: Courtesy

Family and friends said their last goodbyes this week to Jorge Durán y Coral, who at 112 years and 90 days was either the oldest or the second-oldest person in Yucatán.

“Don Chep,” as he was known, was a veteran sailor who lived in the quiet coastal village of San Felipe. He was born in nearby Panabá and had nine children from two marriages, his family said.

Durán y Coral was a year old when his father died, and his mother died five years later, leaving him orphaned and eventually cared for by uncles. He said he remembered going to the local bakery where customers asked him to sing “La Cucaracha” or other songs in exchange for bread, sugar, and coffee. He started school at the age of 12 while also working as a cowboy on a ranch between the ages of 12 and 17. Later, he found work as a sailor on a boat that transported goods between Progreso and Cozumel.

According to a gerontology wiki, “Don Chep” earned his nickname in 1914, when a barber accidentally cut his ear. His friends started to call the 5-year-old “chep” or “chepe,” derived from a Mayan word referring to his bad haircut.

Jorge Durán Coral, who lived to be 112, is said to be in this early photo of a transport boat in Yucatán. Photo: The 110 Club

All but one of his children are still living, the eldest being 88 years old.

He was in news headlines in March as one of the world’s oldest people to get vaccinated against coronavirus.

An undated photo of “Don Chep,” who lived to be 112. Photo: Courtesy

His longevity secret? According to one local paper, his entire life he went to bed early, no later than 7 p.m., and avoided bottled sodas. He didn’t sip a Coke until he was in his 70s.

The harbor pier in San Felipe is named after the veteran sailor.

Jorge Durán Coral’s 109th birthday was heralded in a local newspaper in 2018. Photo: Facebook

Tracking the accuracy of birthdates is difficult. The oldest person alive in Yucatán is unofficially said to be Don Elías Medina López, from Oxkutzcab, who turned 114 years old on July 16. And even he’s not said to be the oldest in Mexico.

That honor belongs to Manuel García Hernández, who has a birth certificate dated Dec. 24, 1896, in the small Veracruz city of Tlapacoyan. That makes him 124 years old, older than anyone else not only in Mexico but perhaps the entire world — a claim unverified by any official record-keeper.

The stringent Guinness World Records declares Emilio Flores Márquez, a 112-year-old retired sugar-cane farmer from Puerto Rico, to be the oldest man. The oldest woman is Kane Tanaka, who was born in Japan in 1903, making her 118.

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