LONDON Millvina Dean, who as an infant passenger aboard the Titanic was lowered into a lifeboat in a canvas mail sack and lived to become the ships last survivor, died Sunday at a nursing home in Southampton, the English port from which the Titanic embarked on its fateful voyage, according to staff at the home.
She was 97 and had been in poor health for several weeks.
The youngest of the ships 705 survivors, Ms. Dean was only 9 weeks old when the Titanic hit an iceberg in waters off Newfoundland on the night of April 14, 1912, setting off what was then considered the greatest maritime disaster in history.
She survived with her mother, Georgetta, and 2-year-old brother when they, like many other survivors, were picked up by the liner Carpathia and taken to New York.
Her father, Bertram Dean, was among more than 1,500 passengers and crew members who died in the sinking, a fact that Ms. Dean, in an interview at the Southampton nursing home last month, attributed partly to the fact that the Dean family was traveling in third class, or steerage, as the cheapest form of passage was known.
Some versions of the disaster have contended that the crew was under orders to give priority aboard lifeboats to first- and second-class passengers, and even that doors were kept locked that would have given people in steerage faster access to the lifeboats through parts of the ship dedicated to higher-paying passengers. Though these assertions have been disputed, Ms. Dean said that she believed them to be true, and that her father might otherwise have survived.
It couldnt happen nowadays, and its so wrong, so unjust, she said, emphasizing her point with a line from a Rudyard Kipling poem about class distinctions in the British Army in colonial India: What do they say? Judy OGrady and the colonels lady are sisters under the skin. Thats the way it should have been that night, but it wasnt.
Mr. Dean, 29, who had been running a pub in London, was taking his family to a new life in Kansas City, Mo., where a cousin who immigrated before him had helped buy a tobacconists shop that Mr. Dean planned to run. But with the family breadwinner gone, his widow spent only a week in New York before returning with her children to England.
Millvina Dean a name she used throughout her life, though she was christened Elizabeth Gladys Dean spent her early years on a farm owned by her grandfather, a Southampton veterinarian.
She never married and spent her working life as an assistant and secretary in small businesses in Southampton. Among other jobs, she worked at a greyhound racing track and, during World War II, in the British governments map-making office. For more than 20 years, until she retired, she worked in an engineering office.
The celebrity that came from being part of the disaster, and eventually living almost a century beyond it, was something she always had trouble grasping. She told visitors in later years that she was such an ordinary person that she found it surprising that anybody took much interest in her.
In the nursing home interview, she said that for decades after the sinking, she never spoke of it or her part in it to people she met or worked with. She said she had not thought it appropriate, partly because she remembered nothing about it and partly because she did not want to be seen as drawing attention to herself.
But that changed, she said, after Sept. 1, 1985, when a joint French-American team located the wreck of the Titanic, in water more than 2 miles deep, 370 miles east of Mistaken Point, Newfoundland. That set off a wave of interest in the ship and its fate that crested in 1996 with James Camerons blockbuster movie Titanic, starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Nobody knew about me and the Titanic, to be honest, nobody took any interest, so I took no interest either, she said. But then they found the wreck, and after they found the wreck, they found me.
In the last 20 years of her life, she went to gatherings in the United States, Canada and a handful of European countries to participate in events related to the sinking.
Ms. Dean said all she knew of what happened during the sinking she had learned from her mother: She told me that they heard a tremendous crash, and that my father went up on deck, then came back down again and said, Get the children up and take them to the deck as soon as possible, because the ship has struck an iceberg.
On deck, mother and daughter were separated from father and son, and it was only at daylight, hours after they boarded the Carpathia, that she and her mother were reunited with her brother, Bertram Vere Dean. A carpenter, he died in 1997.
After failing health forced her to move to the nursing home, Ms. Dean, struggling to pay the residential cost of nearly $5,000 a month, began selling her Titanic mementos at auction, including a canvas mailbag that her mother used to carry the few belongings the family acquired during its week in New York.
She had hoped that the mailbag would prove to be the one used to lower her into the lifeboat, but when experts decided it was not, it brought only 1,500, about $2,400.
Such a pity, Ms. Dean said in the interview, with a quick smile. If it had been the mailbag they used for me, it would have been 100,000!
In recent weeks, news accounts of her plight caught the attention of Ms. Winslet and Mr. DiCaprio, and they, together with Mr. Cameron, contributed to the Millvina Fund, set up to meet the nursing home costs.
Ms. Dean died, on the 98th anniversary of the ships launching, without ever having seen the movie, which she attributed to reluctance to be reminded of what happened to her father. It would have made me think, did he jump overboard or did he go down with the ship? she said. I would have been very emotional.
As for her own survival, she said that as a very down-to-earth person, she had little time for the metaphysical speculations urged on her over the years about why fate, or divine providence, had chosen her to survive the sinking as an infant, then allowed her to outlive everyone else who escaped.
Heaven and hell how can you believe in something up in the sky? she said. Then, smiling again, she added, Still, Id love to be proved wrong.