‘I don’t like to sit around’

Sep 1st, 2021 | By | Category: Spotlight

Florence Rigney is finally doing something at least close to what she never wanted to do: Sit.

“SeeSee,” as she’s known by her friends and co-workers, has retired at the age of 96 from a career that began more than 70 years ago and ended with her being the oldest working nurse in America.

“I don’t like to sit around – I’ve always got to have something to do. That’s my nature,” said Rigney, whose last day with MultiCare Health System was July 16.

Nursing took Rigney across the country, from Washington to Texas to Wyoming, with small breaks to care for her family. She has two children. Now, in retirement, she’s looking forward to enjoying her family and friends.

“I don’t know exactly what made me want to become a nurse, but it was something that I always wanted to do. I love to interact with patients and give them the help that I can,” Rigney said.

She witnessed countless changes and medical innovations since she first put on the white uniform of a student nurse in the Tacoma General School of Nursing. When she started, penicillin had just been introduced.

One of the biggest changes that she’s seen is the duration of patient stays in hospitals. In the old days, she noted, patients could stay for 10 days or longer after surgery. Now most go home in a day or two, thanks to advances in modern medicine and in-homecare options.

As an operating-room nurse, Rigney was responsible for setting up the rooms to the specifications of surgeons and prepping patients for surgery, such as positioning them on the operating table. During her shifts, she was always active, frequently walking more than three miles or more according to her Fitbit. And she was always the first to jump to a task. When a pregnant co-worker made a call to hospital nurses to help her move a patient, Rigney, in her 90s, was the first to show up.

Rigney did try to slow down once. When she was 65, she turned in her retirement papers. But that only lasted about six months. She knew she needed to get back in action to stay sharp and active. She returned to Tacoma General Hospital to work full-time and only within the last couple years switched to part-time, continuing to prep surgery rooms and patients and filling in as a relief nurse.

In a career spanning 70 years, you pick up quite a bit of knowledge, and Rigney has some to share with future nurses: “Don’t ever think that you know it all. I kind of did that when I was in the operating room, and you have to always be open. You never stop learning.”

In appreciation for her service to her profession, MultiCare, which has hospitals, clinics and other healthcare services in multiple regions of Washington, is establishing the SeeSee Rigney Nursing Endowed Scholarship Fund. It will provide scholarships to MultiCare nurses for continued learning and development and for MultiCare employees who want a career in nursing.

Rigney was “never one to slow down. Some of her colleagues joked that they had to sprint to keep up with her,” said Laureen Driscoll, president of MultiCare’s Tacoma General and Allenmore hospitals. “She’s continued to be a dedicated nurse and an incredible resource to her colleagues and community. It’s humbling to stop and think about the thousands and thousands of lives she’s cared for. Everyone at MultiCare thanks SeeSee for her unmatched dedication and service, and we’re proud to honor her by supporting tomorrow’s future nurses.”

The public can contribute to Rigney’s legacy at multicare.org/supportnursing.

 

Upon retiring in July at the age of 96, Florence Rigney was the oldest working nurse in the U.S. (nurse.org)

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