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Consuelo Romero, 112, Dies; Sewed for Sultan's Family

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 12, 2004; Page C11

Consuelo Moreno Romero, 112, who lived in three centuries and became a U.S. citizen just seven years ago, died of pneumonia Nov. 13 in a nursing home in Virginia Beach, where she had lived for the past 15 years. She had been a resident of Arlington for the previous 25 years.

She wasn't the oldest American; that honor went to Verona Johnston, 114 , who died Dec. 1 in Worthington, Ohio. But she might have been the oldest person to have become a citizen, as her youngest son, J. Anthony Romero III, said.

Consuelo Moreno Romero became a U.S. citizen seven years ago.

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She credited God's will for her long life, and she enjoyed a nip of Southern Comfort whiskey or anise liqueur every so often.

Mrs. Romero was born in Tangier, Morocco. In her youth, she was a seamstress for the sultan's wife and for the family of the wealthy Greek American expatriate Ion Perdicaris. In 1904, Perdicaris and his stepson were kidnapped from their summer villa above Tangier by an Arab tribal leader, known as the last of the Barbary pirates, Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli. As the awe-struck household staff watched, the handsome, black-bearded Moor mounted Perdicaris's personal black stallion and, before galloping off, thundered to the onlookers: "I am the Raisuli!"

President Theodore Roosevelt sent American frigates to the Mediterranean and vowed that the Marines would march across the desert and into the mazelike Moroccan badlands known as the Rif to free a U.S. citizen. But before the Marines could undertake that adventure, the French quietly arranged for the sultan to pay off Raisuli, and he exchanged the captives for a 30-mule train bearing $20,000 in Spanish silver. As it turned out, Perdicaris had renounced his U.S. citizenship years earlier to keep a South Carolina plantation during the Civil War. A semi-fictional Hollywood movie, "The Wind and the Lion," was made of the incident.

Mrs. Romero married an artist who painted murals on the palace in Rabat, Morocco. They had seven children.

Five of her seven children died before her -- two in infancy, one in childhood from a fever, another in her teens from typhoid and another in adulthood from a botched abortion. Her husband, Jose Romero, died in 1940 from an infection.

Their youngest son worked for the American legation in Morocco. When Morocco became independent in 1956, he applied for a visa to the United States, and upon arrival, he began the process to become a U.S. citizen. He then sent for his family, who arrived in 1964.

"It was the first time my mother ever flew," said Romero, who became the District's superintendent of banking. "It scared her. She never really learned English, but she had friends who came from Spain, and she helped my sister raise her family."

As she aged, "Abuela" Romero liked to watch Spanish-language television and read Spanish-language magazines. She enjoyed watching and listening to reruns of the Lawrence Welk television show. Until two weeks before her death, she got into and out of her wheelchair on her own.

"She lived a nice life. She was doing something for the family," her son said.

In addition to her son, of Washington, survivors include a daughter, Maria Sanchez of Virginia Beach; seven grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; and four great-great-grandchildren.

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