Nebraskan is 'oldest worker'
(August 11, 2010)
Sally Gordon has a laugh that rises and explodes into a high-pitched "a-haaaa." She eats her food slowly with chopsticks to stay slim. And she walks everywhere, typically in the shade of an elegant, wide-brimmed hat.
Her always-cheery attitude, her disciplined diet and active lifestyle all help explain why, at age 101, Gordon is still working.
Tuesday, that remarkable career got national recognition.
Gordon was honored at the State Capitol as America's "Outstanding Oldest Worker" by Experience Works, a non-profit group that helps mature workers find jobs and new careers.
Gordon, who works as a sergeant-at-arms during sessions of the Nebraska Legislature, had been named Nebraska's outstanding worker in 2006.
She received the new national honor with wonderment and joy.
"It's a good life. I can't believe all the things that have happened to me," Gordon said. "It kind of puts me in awe."
Those things include working for three Nebraska governors and meeting President Lyndon B. Johnson, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and actors Charleton Heston and Shirley MacLaine, along with appearing in People magazine herself.
She raised four children with her late husband, Merle. Now, there's seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
At age 56, Gordon took a spin as a model — paring off 30 pounds to get the job at the old Hovland-Swanson store in Lincoln. She didn't quit modeling until four years ago at age 97.
She became the State Capitol's first female assistant sergeant-at-arms — referred to as a "red coat" because of their bright red suit coats — at age 75. The red coats deliver written messages to senators from lobbyists during floor debate and generally maintain order during sessions and committee hearings.
During sessions that last from four- to six-months, the red coats work until the hearings and debates end, sometimes into the night, though during recent sessions, Gordon has left at 5 so she isn't walking home after dark.
Gordon said she doesn't understand people who sit around waiting for the "Grim Reaper." In fact, to stay active, she passes up offers of rides on her jaunts to and from the grocery store and pharmacy.
"Life is very precious. You have to use every moment," she said.
An official with Experience Works said that Gordon will be a great role model for older workers.
"She remains very active and welcomes new challenges — on and off the job. We hope her story will inspire older individuals everywhere to stay active," said Billy Wooten, an executive director of program operations.
The organization also honored 104-year-old Emilio Navarro in Ponce, Puerto Rico, last week as its male outstanding worker for 2010. The last surviving member of the Negro American baseball league, he still works 30 hours a week as comptroller of a company he founded in 1952.
It's the second time a Nebraskan has won the outstanding senior worker award. Mildred Heath, now 102, claimed the honor in 2008. Heath recently had to drop her job as social news reporter for her hometown paper in Overton, Neb., when she fell and broke her wrist.
Gordon, meanwhile, intends to keep working as long as she is able.
And now she has a new job — being a role model for older workers.
"This represents America. It still hasn't hit me," said Gordon, launching one of those high-pitched laughs as she talks about possibly meeting Jay Leno or the president. "It's all I can dream of. I hope I can live up to it."