OAKLAND -- Andrew Hatch was long for this world. One of the longest.

After 117 years, living life in three centuries -- through wars, presidents, politics, quakes, earthshaking social movements and leaps of technology from gaslight to LEDs -- Hatch died quietly at his daughter's Oakland home Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"No one stays on this earth forever," said Hatch's daughter, Delane Sims, who has been caring for her "Daddy" in her home for the past two years. "But even 117 was not enough; I didn't want to say goodbye."

October 2015: Shortly before his 117th birthday, Andrew Hatch poses for a photograph with his daughter Delane Sims, left, and granddaughter SherriAnn Cole,
October 2015: Shortly before his 117th birthday, Andrew Hatch poses for a photograph with his daughter Delane Sims, left, and granddaughter SherriAnn Cole, at his Oakland, Calif. home. (D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group))

At the time of his passing, Hatch, born in Louisiana Oct. 7, 1898, was likely the oldest man in the country, if not the world. And though he had decades' worth of driver's licenses and work-permit cards displaying his age, he didn't have a birth certificate. Birth records for African-Americans in the South were scarce in the late 19th century, so he was never officially listed as "oldest man" by the Gerontology Research Group, which tracks longevity.

It would have been a nice recognition, his family says, but Hatch didn't give a hoot about all that. "I don't like a fuss; I'm still a youngster," he said at his 111th birthday in 2009, sporting his ubiquitous "Obama" cap.


Whether he liked it or not, people did make a fuss. During his most advanced years, he received proclamations from city and local officials, not to mention attention from the press. This newspaper has written about Hatch since he turned 107 because, well, we thought he was old then. And just last summer, he was featured in GQ magazine with several other supercentenarians, an exclusive club of those who'd reached 110 and beyond.

Hatch was as super as anyone goes. Fiercely independent even at 110 ... 112 ... 115, he continued to be healthy except for bad hearing and some memory slips. In 2014, he was still living on his own in his downtown Oakland senior residence, often going "to town" -- which usually meant to Walgreens for some Juicy Fruit gum -- cruising the sidewalks on his cherry-red motorized scooter, his sunglasses fitted with rearview mirrors.

Then about two years ago, a fall laid him up, and he finally conceded to move in with Sims and her husband. He had a leg amputated in 2015, and was mostly bedbound since. But to his last days, numerals had no effect on his broad smile when family and friends would enter his room.

"He had still been talking and interacting, right up until this last week," Sims said. "We were so blessed to have him with us these past couple of years, creating new memories every day."

Though born in Louisiana, Hatch's family had moved to Houston when he was a child. When he was a young man, he learned locksmithing and traveled the world as a merchant marine -- Africa, Europe, Canada -- and had many adventures. One of those was when Hatch was in his early 20s, and he was jailed in Irving, Texas, for "reckless eyeballing" a pretty white woman. He said he used his locksmith skills to escape and hopped on a boxcar for Mexico, where he stayed for several years and taught himself Spanish.

In 1933, he moved to Oakland, working as a blacksmith, an auto mechanic and a taxi driver. In 1971, he survived an apartment fire in West Oakland in which he lost a couple of fingers while hanging from a burning ledge, "but they rebuilt me," he once said, chuckling.

With an opinion as strong as his grip, despite the missing digits, Hatch was always on top of current events and politics.

"He's seen so much history," Sims said. "All the civil rights events. But he reaches past racism. Never lived his life carrying that baggage."

Hatch credited the "Big Man upstairs," plus the steady love of his daughter who came along late in his life, for his longevity. But his main advice? "Live on your own, and don't take no wooden nickels," he said.

In addition to Sims, Hatch is survived by son-in-law Jerry Sims; nine grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren. Services are pending.

Contact Angela Hill at ahill@bayareanewsgroup.com, or follow her on Twitter @GiveEmHill.