When Nancy Burrage, RN, ’49 was just over a month away from graduating from the Cabarrus County Hospital School of Nursing, she sent a hand-written letter to Louise Harkey, hospital administrator at the time, asking for a job. Five days later, Harkey responded, offering her a position for $140 per month.
On January 1, 1950, at 20 years old, Burrage, who was Nancy Lee Clay then, started her career at Cabarrus County Hospital. A career that would span 63 years.
“I went to the nursing school when I was 17 years old and trained. My mother told me when I left home, I wouldn’t stay but two weeks. And I worked there for 63 years,” she said.
Burrage always wanted to be a nurse. After looking at several hospitals that offered nursing programs, she chose to enroll in the Cabarrus County Hospital School of Nursing in October 1946.
Her very first morning, they put on their uniform — a blue dress and a white apron. All students had to attend chapel every morning at 6:30 a.m. They would have morning devotion and then eat breakfast before heading to the hospital, to class or to work.
“We had to line up in chapel and Miss Harkey would come and inspect us. If we had one hair out of place, we had to go back and fix our hair. If we had one run in our pantyhose, we’d have to go back and change hose,” Burrage said. “When we were working as student nurses, Miss Harkey would go around every morning and check all the bedside cabinets. We had to wipe them out every day. If you left one grain or something in them, you had to wipe them all out.”
Burrage said attending Cabarrus County Hospital School of Nursing, now Cabarrus College of Health Sciences, was the best decision she ever made. Not only because it was close to home, as Burrage is a Concord native, but she found her calling and her true passion — being a labor and delivery nurse.
She started her nursing career in the recovery room before moving into the nursery. She eventually moved into labor and delivery because most of the nurses were scared to work in obstetrics. Burrage spent decades delivering hundreds and hundreds of babies. And she loved it.
“When the doctors were playing golf at the country club, which was right outside of the nurses’ home (residence), close to Lake Concord Road, we would hang a sheet out the window to let them know a baby was coming. They’d come running and deliver the babies and go right back to the golf course,” Burrage said.
Even though she enjoyed delivering babies, some of her fondest memories are from taking care of her family members. As a student nurse and during her professional career, she had the opportunity to care for her grandfathers, her grandmothers, her father, and several aunts and uncles.
As a student nurse, Burrage met her husband, Frank. They were married in November 1952. And in 1959, they had their son, Franklin “Blair” Burrage. When Burrage went out on maternity leave, she had every intention of using her full six months. But the hospital started calling her to come back when Blair was 6 weeks old. So Burrage went back part time and ended up moving into a head nurse role before being asked to take on a supervisor role in 1975, where she was responsible for the whole third floor of the hospital.
After nearly 40 years of delivering babies and serving as a nurse manager, Burrage decided she was tired and wanted a change. She retired from nursing. But retirement didn’t last long when she was asked to fill in for a few weeks while the hospital waited for its new nurse manager. Those few weeks turned into years as Burrage worked part time and volunteered before transitioning into hospital registration.
Even though she had retired from nursing, Burrage’s experience and skills were still needed as she delivered a baby in a car in front of the hospital one Saturday.
“They drove up and had a bunch of children with them. There wasn’t a soul in the waiting room but me. They came in and hollered that a woman was having a baby in the car. I walked out there and she was in an old station wagon with her feet up on both back seats and the head was hanging out,” she said. “I had to take my hands and deliver it. It was cold that day because I sat there holding the baby and it was just smoking. And I had on a white sweater, but only got one little spot of blood on it."
A 63-Year Career Comes to An End
After 63 years of working for what is now Atrium Health Cabarrus, Burrage finally called it quits in 2013 when Frank became ill. He was in a nursing home for two months before passing away. The couple was married for a little more than 61 years. “Frank didn’t know I was going to live to be 100,” she said.
At 93 years old (she will turn 94 on September 7), Burrage is told by many people that she will live to be 104. And she just might as she shares her secrets to staying young and fit.
“Worry will kill you. Hard work never hurt nobody. And when I was growing up, we ate a lot out of the garden,” Burrage said. “I’ve never been a fast-food eater. Now, I eat some once in a while, but I eat a good breakfast, I’ve always gotten good sleep and I don’t eat a lot before I go to bed. I always try to get eight hours of sleep. Well, seven to eight hours of sleep.”
And every three months, Burrage reunites with her former co-workers, physicians and friends at the Cabarrus Memorial Hospital reunion. It’s one of the events she looks forward to the most. And it gives her a reason to bake one of her “famous” cakes. Burrage enjoys getting in her kitchen and baking for anyone who has a sweet tooth.
Even though Burrage is no longer working in the hospital, she keeps herself busy. She gets her hair done every Wednesday; attends church weekly; loves going out to eat with her family and close friends, oftentimes you can find her at the Mayflower Seafood Restaurant on half-priced days; and enjoys cooking. She also enjoys spending time with her great-grandchildren, who call her Gigi.
Not to mention, she loves vanilla ice cream, which she has every night before going to bed.