Note: The video accompanying this post was produced pre-COVID-19 as Alta Bates Hospital celebrated Elena Griffing’s 70th year on the job. She opted to stay aboard another five years.
Wearing her trademark pressed lab coat and heels Orinda’s Elena Griffing has clicked along the corridors of Sutter’s Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley for 75 years. That’s 75 years at the same job.
Pressed into service while a patient at what was then known as Alta Bates Community Hospital, Griffing liked the work – stepping into the job vacated by a departing secretary and never looking back.
It was April 10th, 1946.
When she finally does leave the job, officially retiring May 3, she will do so with the distinction of being the hospital’s longest tenured employee, even with the six sick days she took over the intervening years.
“I keep saying I should have worked one more year, but 75 sounds like a good number,” she told KTVU.
At work during an age where careers were often measured in single digits, Griffing’s approach to her job attracted attention at the hospital almost from the start.
Hospital founder Alta Alice Miner Bates, R.N. stopped her in the hall one day, telling Griffing she should stop wearing her trademark 3-inch heels because she “might fall and sue the hospital.” That never happened, and Griffing wore heels to work every day.
“I couldn’t wait to go to work,” she said. “I couldn’t wait to get there. I took vacation but only because I had to. When you enjoy what you are doing and think you are doing something for somebody it gives you such joy. That’s the way it’s always been.”
Griffing worked as a medical secretary in the pathology and endocrinology departments, delivered test results and spent 22 years at the Alta Bates Burn Center. She spent her last years at the hospital working as a patient relations representative.
Now, with a whole lot of memories and hospital stories under her belt (she tells the story of helping a panicky family who drove to the “Deliveries” entrance of the hospital seeking help for an imminent new arrival, not knowing it was a tradesman’s entrance and not the maternity ward) she prepares for time at home in Orinda – tending her garden, exercising on her treadmill, listening to her extensive collection of Frank Sinatra records.
“If I had a job that I hated, 75 years would be a tremendous accomplishment,” Griffing says. “But when you have a job that you can’t wait to go to in the morning, 75 years goes by so fast.”