Who was Millvina Dean?
Millvina Dean was an English cartographer and civil servant. She is best known as the last survivor of the sinking of British passenger liner ‘RMS Titanic,’ which sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in April 1912. She was the youngest passenger of ‘RMS Titanic’ as she was just two months old when she boarded the ship with her parents and brother. Dean and her family were leaving the United Kingdom to settle down in Wichita, Kansas, United States of America. Though they had not planned to board ‘RMS Titanic,’ a coal strike forced them to board the ship as third-class passengers. Dean, her mother, and her brother were among the first few third-class passengers to escape in a lifeboat. However, she lost her father during the tragedy. She served the British government during the ‘Second World War’ and later took up several jobs, including that of a cartographer. Starting from her 70s, Dean participated in many Titanic-related events, such as conventions, exhibitions, interviews, and documentaries. ‘The Millvina Fund’ was set up in 2009 to support her with her escalating medical bills. She succumbed to pneumonia at the age of 97 and her ashes were dispersed at the docks in Southampton from where the ‘RMS Titanic’ began its voyage.
Birth & Family
Eliza Gladys ‘Millvina’ Dean was born on February 2, 1912, in Branscombe, Devon, England. She was born to Georgette Eva Light and Bertram Frank Dean. Bertram Vere Dean was her elder brother.
Dean lost her father during the ‘RMS Titanic’ disaster, while her mother died on September 16, 1975. Her brother Bertram Vere Dean passed away on April 14, 1992. Dean neither married nor had children.
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The RMS Titanic Disaster
Bertram Frank Dean’s cousin owned a tobacco shop in the United States. Upon his cousin’s invitation to start life afresh as the co-owner of the tobacco shop, Dean’s father decided to relocate to Wichita from the United Kingdom. Although Dean’s family was supposed to board another ship, they were transferred onto the ‘RMS Titanic’ (the largest ship afloat at the time) because of a coal strike. They boarded the ship as third-class passengers at Southampton, England.
‘RMS Titanic’ hit an iceberg at 11:40 pm (ship’s time) on April 14, 1912. The collision was felt by Dean’s father. After investigating, he returned to the cabin and asked his wife to move to the deck along with their children.
Soon after the collision, Millvina Dean, her mother, and her brother were transferred to ‘Lifeboat 10.’ They were among the first few third-class passengers to be transferred to a lifeboat. ‘RMS Titanic’ sank in the early hours of April 15, 1912, resulting in the death of over 1,500 people. Dean’s father was killed in the accident and his body was never identified.
Life After RMS Titanic Tragedy
Although Dean’s mother initially wanted to relocate to Kansas as per her husband’s wish, she later decided to return to the UK. While returning to the United Kingdom aboard the ‘RMS Adriatic,’ Dean became the center of attention. In an article published in the ‘Daily Mirror’ on May 12, 1912, Dean was described as the ‘pet’ of the ship. The article also mentioned that Dean’s presence had sparked a rivalry among women as all of them wanted to nurse and hold her. The rivalry became so intense that an officer had to issue a decree saying that the first and second-class passengers may take turns to hold her for a maximum period of ten minutes.
After returning to England, Dean’s mother raised her children mostly on pension funds. Dean and her brother attended schools in Southampton. The fact that Dean was one of the passengers of ‘RMS Titanic’ was told to her when she was eight years old.
During the ‘Second World War,’ Dean served the British government. Subsequently, she took up several jobs including that of an assistant to a tobacconist, a secretary, and a cartographer. She later joined a Southampton engineering firm where she worked in the purchasing department until her retirement in 1972.
Health Issues & Death
Dean faced several health-related issues in her 90s. She accepted an invitation in April 2008 to speak at a Southampton event commemorating the 96th anniversary of the ‘RMS Titanic’ disaster. But she could not attend the event because of ill health caused by a respiratory infection.
The increasing cost of her private medical care bills forced Dean to sell many of her family’s possessions in December 2008. Among the items that she sold was a suitcase given to her mother in New York after the sinking of the ship and a letter sent from the ‘Titanic Relief Fund.’ The sale raised around £32,000. In February 2009, the nonagenarian announced that she would be selling more such items to pay her medical bills which were exceeding £3,000 a month.
In April 2009, ‘The Millvina Fund’ was created by the Belfast, British, and International ‘Titanic Societies’ to help Dean pay her nursing home bills. Irish best-selling author, humanitarian, and media producer Don Mullan used the opening of his international Nokia photographic exhibition as an opportunity to boost ‘The Millvina Fund.’ The exhibition titled ‘A Thousand Reasons for Living’ was held on April 22, 2009, in Dublin.
The exhibition had a portrait of Dean’s hands. Don Mullan produced 100 copies of the portrait and made them available at €500 each. He then challenged Celine Dion, James Cameron, Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, ‘Paramount Pictures,’ ‘20th Century Fox,’ and ‘Sony Music’ to match his contribution which would in turn help Dean pay her bills. In response to his challenge, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet made a joint contribution of US $20,000, while James Cameron and Celine Dion donated $10,000 each.
On May 31, 2009, Dean succumbed to pneumonia at a nursing home in Ashurst, Hampshire, England. Dean’s body was cremated. On October 24, 2009, her ashes were dispersed at the docks in Southampton from where the ‘Titanic’ had started its fateful journey.