ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (WAVY) – In 1961, Willie Mae Overton walked through the doors of Albemarle Hospital for her first day of work. Sixty years later, she’s still walking through those very same doors.
Today, at what’s now called Sentara Albemarle Medical Center, Sentara Healthcare recognized Overton as the longest-serving employee in the entire organization.
“Why not use what I got while I can?” Overton said. “I like what I’m doing, I like people, talking, meeting new friends, I like doing for others.”
At 82, Overton has lived through major cultural shifts that affected her personally.
Although Overton started out in environmental services, she took courses at College of the Albemarle and became the first Black office worker at the hospital.
Eventually, integration took effect in the hospital, and she was able to sit in the same cafeteria as her white colleagues.
Not everyone was pleased with the progress, Overton remembers.
“We had a bomb threat during that time,” she said. “People weren’t used to changes.”
Overton retired briefly after 30 years in accordance with hospital protocol but came back part-time as soon as she was able, working as a safety care partner with patients who need one-on-one attention.
Her daughter, Judy Riddick ties her mother’s longevity to her lifelong work ethic.
“I could see her probably going another 20 years. That’s just who she is, from the time she wakes up in the morning and her feet hit the floor, she’s gone,” Riddick said. “I think if she didn’t do it, she wouldn’t still be here.”
Although Riddick is an only child, she says Overton had to work constantly.
Overton was a single mom, and shared her earnings with her nine siblings.
“I’m very proud of her, she’s done a lot,” Riddick said. “She missed a lot of quality time with me, to try to support me and support her family, her younger brothers and sisters.”
With her mother as an example, Riddick has now devoted 40 years to Sentara Albemarle Medical Center, and Overton estimates her daughter is one of 15 family members who worked at the hospital.
“I was a role model to them,” Overton said. “Anything I can do to help anyone in the community or anywhere, I was there for them.”
In 2017, Overton was wheeled through the doors of the hospital to be treated for a stroke. Even then, she wanted to talk to everyone around her.
“I was trying to wave, couldn’t do that. Couldn’t do anything but smile,” she said. “I wasn’t out that long. I came back.”
Last December, Overton came down with COVID-19. That’s kept her out of the hospital for months, but once her doctor clears her, she says she’s ready to come back.
“It’s a pleasure for me to be able to take care of sick people,” she said. “I’m blessed every day.”