Last 1906 quake survivor passes away

The last known survivor of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake died Monday, according to an organizer of the annual earthquake commemoration events.

Born just three months before the devastating quake that destroyed most of San Francisco, Bill Del Monte, 109, died peacefully in his sleep early Monday morning.

A long time resident of Marin County, Del Monte was planning his 110th birthday celebration with family and friends in the days preceding his death, according to Lee Houskeeper, who helps organize the annual events marking the anniversary of the quake.

“Bill had a wickedly sharp sense of humor and wit about him,” Houskeeper said. “That was the common thread between all the survivors, a sense of humor that can only come from being so rudely tossed out of bed at 5:12 a.m. in the morning.” According to Del Monte’s niece Janette Barroca, his mother wrapped him in a tablecloth and fled to the East Bay until it was safe to return and rebuild in San Francisco.

The city will dedicate this year’s 110th anniversary of San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake and fire and annual Lotta’s Fountain commemoration event on April 18 to Del Monte, according to the office of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee:

“I am saddened by the passing of Bill Del Monte, a true friend to our city. … He ultimately witnessed our city’s rise from the ashes more than a century ago seeing it rebuilt better than ever. …  His legacy is a true reminder of how resilient our city is.”

Fellow earthquake survivor Ruth Newman, who passed away in September at the age of 113, will also be remembered at the ceremony. She was the oldest living survivor at the time of her death and the last female survivor.

Houskeeper said:

“Many people have asked me if we are going to continue to host these events commemorating the earthquake survivors even after the last survivor is gone and the truth is, we need to. … In the end, San Francisco is the survivor.”