The year was 1946. Penicillin had only recently become widely available, flu vaccines were a new phenomenon and it would be several years before Watson and Crick would describe the structure of DNA.
That year, Florence “Seesee” Rigney started working as a student nurse at the Tacoma General School of Nursing, then part of Tacoma General Hospital in Washington.
The job was her lifelong dream.
"I love nursing," Rigney said in 2013. "Since I was a little girl, it was something that I always wanted to do."
And, boy, has she done it.
Rigney is now 90 years old and still a working nurse -- at Tacoma General Hospital, no less.
The nonagenarian celebrated her birthday on May 8. In a message penned in her honor, Bill Robertson, president and CEO of MultiCare Health System, which runs Tacoma General, wrote that Rigney had worked “on and off” for the Multicare group for “nearly 70 years.”
“She is the oldest practicing nurse in the United States,” Robertson said. “Just imagine all the changes SeeSee has seen in her life.”
According to a video uploaded by Multicare nurse Martie Schultz, Rigney’s colleagues surprised her with a birthday celebration on her special day, adorning her with a pink sash and glittery crown. One of her colleagues also read a special letter that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) had written in Rigney’s honor.
“Happy birthday, Seesee. Your story is an inspiration to me and all Washingtonians,” Inslee is quoted as saying.
An emotional Rigney thanked her colleagues for their warm wishes as they all whooped and cheered. “I know I’m a pain in the you-know-what,” she joked. “Thank you all.”
Rigney currently works as a surgical nurse at Tacoma General twice a week. In 2013, Multicare said that the then-88-year-old no longer worked directly with patients during surgeries, but rather set up the operating rooms.
“[SeeSee] still pursues her lifelong profession with the same energy, focus and careful execution of her duties that has marked her career across seven decades,” Robertson said last week. “And she still inspires those around her.”