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91-year old woman at same company for 71 years says she'll retire when they 'carry me out in a box’

Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy
Contributing Writer

In current culture, millennials move from job to job in order to climb the ladder. The average time spent at a company is just two years. For baby boomers and other generations, this was not the norm. Loyalty and dedication to a single company or career drove, and still drives, many of their careers. AOL’s original series Lifers features these dedicated, loyal workers who have been in their jobs for years and years. Will they retire? Are they prepared to?

“On the 10th day of April 1946, I came to work — and I still can’t wait to come to work, and it’s 71 years later,” says Elena Griffing, a patient relations coordinator at the Sutter Health Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley, Calif.

Now 91 years old, the Orinda, Calif., resident she says that being a part of the medical field when she started work at the age of 20 was “just magic.”

Colleagues describe her as “strong-willed” and “independent” — factors that they think help keep her scampering down the halls in her kitten heels, joyful to be at work each day.

Elena Griffing (Photo: Aol)

The chief medical executive of the Sutter Health Alta Bates Summit Medical Center calls Griffing “the heart and soul” of the hospital, and her influence on the facility and its culture nothing less than “extraordinary.”

Griffing was diagnosed with a hemoglobin disorder at the age of 19, and landed in the hospital where she would eventually work. She stayed there for four months, recovering. One day, some lab technicians were complaining that a secretary had not come in, and that this had slowed down their ability to work. Griffing says that one of them asked her, “Are you a secretary? You should get to work.” And the rest is history.

After starting in reception, Griffing then moved into pathology, hand-delivering reports and test results long before computers arrived on the scene. Back then, Griffing explains, “Everything was done by hand.”

Now, Griffing is the hospital’s goodwill ambassador, a natural fit for her combined love of patient care and working in a medical environment. Griffing brings a smile and skip in her step to tasks as seemingly simple as reuniting patients with lost belongings, because she understands how important a smile and communicating a sense of personal investment in your work can be to others. With an attitude like that, it’s no wonder that Griffing has taken only four sick days in her 71 years on the job — and still, she says she’s “furious” that she’s even had to take those.

“I don’t have time to be depressed. I refuse to be depressed. I don’t have time to be sad, because I’m
having too much fun being happy,” Griffing says, discussing what she thinks is the secret of her success. “You work every day. You have to think and solve problems every day. That ol’ gray matter still works.”

Will she ever stop working? Griffing says she’ll keep taking it a year at a time, but certainly hopes to be able to work for at least another four years, until she can complete 75 years.

She continues, smiling, “I will retire when they push me out the door or carry me out in a box. End of story.”

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