LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska woman once honored for being one of the nation's oldest working Americans died Tuesday, less than a year after she left her job in the Legislature and a career that included politicians, movie stars and profound moments in state history.
Family members said Sally Gordon died shortly after midnight at a Lincoln hospital, where she was staying after she fell in her home a few weeks ago. She was 102.
Gordon left her job last year as assistant sergeant-at-arms at the Nebraska Legislature, where she had worked since 1984, starting at age 75.
Every day that weather allowed, she walked seven blocks to the Capitol from her Lincoln home. She was honored as America's Outstanding Oldest Worker for 2010, given by Experience Works, the nation's largest nonprofit training center for older workers.
"Sally was a great Nebraskan, and we will miss her," said Gov. Dave Heineman.
Her resume included stints as a court reporter, a model, an employee at an engraving company and a secretary to three Nebraska governors. She hobnobbed with Shirley MacLaine and Gene Kelly, and once chatted with Lyndon B. Johnson on the steps of Air Force One. To regulars at the Nebraska State Capitol, she was the warm and welcoming presence who shuttled notes to lawmakers and helped prepare for legislative floor debate each morning.
"She never really stopped, never really slowed down," her son, Jim Gordon, said. "To us kids, she was a mom first and a working woman second. She was a role model without intending to be a role model. She did the things she wanted to do, and she did them well."
Sally Gordon was behind her desk one day 50 years ago, when a young man with a Boston accent walked into then-Gov. Ralph Brooks' office. Robert F. Kennedy asked Gordon why she was working on a Saturday.
"I need to get the job done."
Gordon was born on March 26, 1909, in Chicago. She grew up in Fort Collins, Colo., and learned the value of hard work from her parents. Her father held a variety of jobs to keep the family afloat and when Gordon got married, she and her husband did the same while raising four children.
When she was young and pregnant with her first child, she worked full time for Colorado State University until the day she gave birth. But, Gordon once said, her bosses thought it was inappropriate for a pregnant woman to be seen in the workplace. So she worked at a desk and typewriter they brought to her house.
Gordon liked to knit and garden, and she watched almost no TV. One of her favorite, self-coined phrases: "Life goes by at an amazing pace. Perhaps that's why it's called the human race."
Gordon's husband died in 1969. She had four children, including a daughter who died in 2006; seven grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
On her 100th birthday, Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler gave her a medallion and named the day in her honor. She received a letter from President Barack Obama. A group of lobbyists recorded a CD with songs such as "Red Coat Sally," a reference to the red coats worn by sergeants-at-arms at the Capitol.
Gordon was honored as America's Outstanding Oldest Worker for 2010. She beat women from across the country for the award given by Experience Works, the nation's largest nonprofit training center for older workers. A 104-year-old man who runs a game-machine business in Puerto Rico won the equivalent award for male workers earlier this month.
Gordon accepted her award at the Nebraska Capitol, which hadn't been built when she was born in 1909.
"I used to be a model," Gordon told a crowd at the time. "Now I feel like a model T."
Routinely one of the best-dressed people in the Capitol, her personality matched the flowing scarves and dresses she favors.
With a light touch on the shoulder, she stopped high-powered politicians, lobbyists and staffers in the Capitol hallways to dispense compliments and ask about their families and other personal matters. Hugs and smiles often followed.
GRANT SCHULTE, Associated Press
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