Washington’s oldest resident dies; grew up in Gig Harbor, raised family in Tacoma

The state’s oldest resident, Emma Otis of Poulsbo, died Sunday at 114. She’s here at 112 with her great-great-grandson Caleb Hale.
The state’s oldest resident, Emma Otis of Poulsbo, died Sunday at 114. She’s here at 112 with her great-great-grandson Caleb Hale. Kitsap Sun file

Emma Otis, the oldest person in Washington and one of the oldest in the nation, died Sunday in Poulsbo.

She was 114 years, 3 days old.

Otis lived in University Place independently until she was 106 years old. That’s when her family convinced her to move to Poulsbo’s Harbor House to be closer to her 91-year-old daughter, Doris Davies of Hansville.

Otis’ family moved to Gig Harbor when she was 5 years old. She attended a two-room schoolhouse in the harbor until 10th grade when students were sent to Tacoma for secondary school.

She took a ferry across the Tacoma Narrows to attend Stadium High School.

After high school, she moved to Tacoma, where she studied nursing at Tacoma General Hospital.

She married in 1921 and raised her family in the Tacoma area. She was a member of the University Place Presbyterian Church.

Even after moving to Poulsbo, Otis didn’t need much assistance until a year ago.

“You reach a point where you almost think of these people as being invincible,” office manager Julie Kester said. “She just kept going. She was a favorite of everybody.

“How can you not love somebody who’s 114 years old? She was just amazing.”

Otis’ husband, Robin, died in 1962. She never remarried, devoting her life to service. She was an 84-year member of the Girl Scouts, where she satisfied her love of nature and the outdoors.

She also was involved in International Order of the Rainbow for Girls, Order of the Eastern Star and Daughters of the American Revolution.

Born Oct. 22, 1901, she headed a five-generation family for the past 22 years since her first great-great-grandchild was born.

Davies is Otis’ only surviving child. She had nine grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and 23 great-great-grandchildren, said granddaughter Nancy Pugh of Port Orchard.

Though highly involved in community service and volunteering, Otis made time for herself. She traveled extensively, visiting every state and many countries.

Among the highlights were traveling to Egypt and hopping on a camel at age 69, riding a mule to the bottom of Grand Canyon at age 76, and visiting her mother’s Swedish birthplace at 89.

“She was very independent,” Pugh said. “She always knew what she wanted to do, and she did it.”

Otis led a petition drive that resulted in the American Goldfinch being designated as the state bird in 1951.

“Nature, travel and volunteering were her big things,” said Pugh, 58.

Otis wasn’t a health nut, though she liked to hike and stay active. She had no major health concerns, took no medicine and didn’t need a wheelchair until this past year.

She attributed her longevity to stubborn Swedish genes. Both of her parents were born in the country.

“It’s a blessing in a lot of ways, but it still hurts,” Pugh said of her grandmother’s death. “Your mind tells you it’s the right thing, but your heart still aches.

“She’s had an amazing life journey. If I could accomplish or experience just half of what she did in her life, I’d be blessed.”

She will be laid to rest with her husband Nov. 27 during a 1 p.m. graveside service at Mountain View Cemetery in Lakewood.

In lieu of flowers, donations can made be made in her name to Girl Scouts of Western Washington (601 Valley Street, Seattle, WA 98109 Attn: Carrie Plank) or to an organization of your choice.

Staff writer Brynn Grimley contributed to this report.