Clayton Warren and Monique Binkley Smith contributed to this story
Talk about loyalty! One amazing Berkeley native is retiring having worked 75 years for the same East Bay hospital. Ninety-five-year-old Elena Griffing has broken records, charmed everyone she met and worn stylish heels on the job for three quarters of a century.
“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. Working at Alta Bates Summit for 75 years has been a real hoot.”
Griffing’s career at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley began by chance on April 10, 1946. For two months, the 20-year-old had suffered from a mysterious illness and was treated with blood transfusions at Alta Bates Community Hospital, as it was then known. One day while Griffing was at the hospital awaiting lab results, the secretary in the laboratory was out sick.
“The phones were just going crazy,” Griffing recalls. “A doctor said, ‘Aren’t you a secretary?’ And I said, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘Go answer the phones.’”
When the secretary quit a short time later, Griffing joined Alta Bates, and 75 years later, she’s still going strong – taking only six sick days in all that time.
“We all age, but Elena is so inspiring because she has managed to age without growing old,” says David Clark, CEO, Alta Bates Summit Medical Center. “Elena’s inner youthfulness has continued to shine bright at Alta Bates Summit for 75 years, and we wish Elena a fond farewell and a happy retirement.”
Griffing is proud to be the last remaining Alta Bates employee who personally knew hospital founder Alta Alice Miner Bates, R.N. Seventy-five years ago, when Bates saw her in the halls of the hospital, she told Griffing she should stop wearing her 3-inch heels because she “might fall and sue the hospital.”
For the record, she still wears heels and has never fallen.
Note: This video was produced pre-COVID-19 in recognition and celebration of Elena Griffing’s 70th work anniversary.
Over the years, Griffing worked as a medical secretary in the pathology and endocrinology, 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.
“Elena makes everyone feel better about themselves and what they’re doing, and that has a huge benefit for patients,” says Holly Colin, director of Regulatory Affairs and Patient Relations at Alta Bates Summit. “Patients still drop in to see her 20 years after they left.”
Griffing has a wealth of fascinating stories from her lifetime of work at Alta Bates Summit—including delivering a baby in the hospital parking lot. While leaving work one day, she heard a big commotion and ran over to assist a woman in a car who was in labor. Griffing caught the baby as it was being born. But it turns out there’s more to this story.
“The funny part…was that the couple saw the sign ‘Deliveries’ so that’s where they drove to,” remembers Griffing. “Of course, the sign meant for the delivery of supplies. They were entirely in the wrong place.”
When Griffing officially retires on May 3, her plans include working out on her treadmill (she walks several miles daily and avoids junk food), tending to 119 camellia bushes at her Orinda home and enjoying her collection of 1,500 78-rpm records. She’s a Big Band music lover and an active member of the Frank Sinatra Fan Club.
“Some people retire at 65, but good grief, I was just getting my second wind at 65,” says Griffing. “I love watching people get well and get better. Every day, I learn and learn and learn. Attitude is important. I always tell young kids starting out that you are never going to find a job that is 100 percent what you want, it’s the overall picture that matters.”