Fall 2021

Barbara Seay outside on a clear day.
Barbara Grayson Seay

Barbara Grayson Seay’s adventurous and caring spirit has led her to make a difference in the lives of others for more than 60 years. The honor graduate of Cabarrus College has made the most of her nursing education, and she’s still working as a nurse at the age of 83.   

After graduating with a nursing diploma in 1961 (and winning the award for “best in surgery”), Barbara worked in the operating room at Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte for two years. But then adventure called. Barbara learned that the Air National Guard was recruiting flight nurses and she jumped at the chance. 

“I Iove to travel and I thought, this is for me. I want to go,” says Barbara. After three months of intensive training, Barbara began work as a flight nurse, caring for soldiers injured in the Vietnam war as they were transported by air from a military base in Virginia to various military hospitals across the US. Barbara’s flight nurse duties were on a standby basis, which enabled her to work PRN at Charlotte Memorial Hospital (now Carolinas Medical Center) and attend Charlotte College (now UNCC) to get her bachelor’s degree in nursing. 

“I’m glad I pursued all of this because it was a different perspective,” Barbara says. “And I’ve looked back, and I think how blessed I was to be able to engage the different aspects of nursing. I value that.”

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Barbara Grayson (second from right) with her aunt, her sister and her father.

A bonus of Barbara’s time in the Air National Guard was the opportunity to tag along whenever there was extra space on non-medical flights. These flights took her to places like San Francisco, Colorado Springs, Rome, Pisa, the Azores and a memorable trip to Vietnam when the plane touched down just long enough to pick someone up but had to quickly take off because of nearby gunfire/bombs.

“I enjoyed the flying and seeing the different places,” Barbara says, “And I love history. I think this is what prompted me to go on these non-medical trips as much as I did.”  

By 1968, Barbara settled down a bit, marrying a flight navigator she met through the military. They moved to Charleston, SC, for her husband to attend pharmacy school, and Barbara shifted gears into public health, working for the Charleston County Health Department in a mother and infant program, an STD clinic and an international immunization clinic. “I enjoyed aspects of all of this,” she says. “It gave me such a varied perspective.”

Several years and two children later, the family moved again, this time to North Augusta, SC. Barbara had her third child but continued working, this time in a long-term care facility. She fell in love with working with the elderly, which defined her career from there forward.  

“To really focus on these elderly people, I dearly, dearly love that,” Barbara says. “Why? To make a difference. Some of these people don’t have families, or their families don’t visit. I think that caring for the elderly and making a difference with these people is one of my spiritual gifts. I’m inclined to believe that’s what God wants me to do.”  

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Barbara Grayson the day she graduated from Cabarrus County Hospital School of Nursing.

During her 10 years at the long-term care facility, Barbara became a single mother and eventually began working in home health, a field that was conducive to raising three children alone and enabled her to continue working with the elderly. She stayed in home health for another 30 years, and still found time to help others, counseling fellow breast cancer survivors after having a radical mastectomy at the age of 40 and providing housing to a homeless woman.    

In 2019, Barbara moved to Easley, SC, to live with her middle child, where she continues to work part-time as a supervisory nurse in home health and helps local elderly people in her spare time.  

“I want to stay involved, and I want to let these people know that somebody does care for them,” Barbara says. “Here in the upstate, it’s a lot of little, small areas, and they don’t see anybody for weeks. I still have my faculties about me, and I want to make a difference with these people. I’m still here and I’m still kickin’, and that’s a blessing in itself. I’ve had a wonderful life and I wouldn’t have changed anything.”

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

Ask any Cabarrus College student what makes the college special, and you’ll likely hear about the individualized attention and personal touch each student receives or the incredible faculty who are fully invested in every student’s success. Well, some things never change. 

When a young Barbara Seay first visited Cabarrus County Hospital School of Nursing (now Cabarrus College of Health Sciences) as a high school student interested in a nursing career, it was the individual attention she received that helped her decide to attend. And that personal touch came from none other than the college’s founder, Louise Harkey.  

“I went to the hospital and inquired about what I would need to do to be admitted, and she was so nice,” says Barbara. “And she encouraged me, and I think that was the deciding factor.” 

It’s a decision Barbara has never regretted. “The whole time I was in nursing school at Cabarrus was a very positive influence on me, and I would not have gone anywhere else,” Barbara says.  “The teachers were phenomenal in encouraging me, helping me and just interacting with me as a young student.”  

Like the many Cabarrus College graduates who came before and after her, the college instilled in Barbara a desire to put others first. “I can remember thinking that I wanted to cure the world,” Barbara says. “How idealistic was that? I can’t cure the world, but I can help one patient, one client at a time. And that has been my motivation. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”