Tacoma nurse retires at 96 after 70-year career

Florence “SeeSee” Rigney

TACOMA, Wash. — More than 70 years after her career began, 96-year-old Florence “SeeSee” Rigney, the oldest working nurse in America, has retired.

MultiCare Health System officials said her last day was Friday, July 16.

Rigney began as a student nurse at the Tacoma General School of Nursing. When she started nursing, penicillin had just been introduced.

Her career has taken her across the country, from Washington to Texas to Wyoming, with short breaks to care for her family. She has two children.

Rigney, an operating room nurse, was responsible for setting up the rooms as surgeons specified, and prepping patients for surgery, such as positioning them on the operating table.

She was always active during her shifts, being the first to do a task and often walking more than three miles on the job, according to her Fitbit.

For instance, when a pregnant nurse asked for help moving a patient, Rigney, in her nineties, was the first to show up, a news release from MultiCare said.

“I don’t like to sit around – I’ve always got to have something to do. That’s my nature,” Rigney has said. “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.”

“Even working into her nineties, SeeSee has never been 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 Tacoma General and Allenmore Hospitals.

MultiCare said the nurse did try to slow down once, when she turned in her retirement papers when she was 65. But her retirement only lasted about six months, and she returned to Tacoma General to work full time. She only switched to part-time in the last few years and continued to prep surgery rooms and patients and filled in as a relief nurse as well.

Rigney said one of the biggest changes in medicine she’s seen in the course of her career is the length of patient stays. She said in the old days, patients could stay in the hospital for more than 10 days while recovering from surgery. Now, most go home in a day or two, thanks to advances in medicine and home care options.

After a 70-year career, Rigney offered some advice to share with future nurses.

“Don’t ever think that you know it all,” she said. “I kind of did that when I was in the operating room and you have to always be open. You never stop learning.”

Now retired, Rigney said she’s looking forward to enjoying her family and friends, but her legacy will continue to inspire the next generation of nurses.

In appreciation for her service to the nursing profession, MultiCare Health System is establishing the SeeSee Rigney Nursing Endowed Scholarship Fund, which will provide scholarships to MultiCare nurses for continued learning and development and for MultiCare employees who would like to pursue a career in nursing.

“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,” Driscoll said.

You can contribute to Rigney’s legacy by supporting future nurses at multicare.org/supportnursing.