"The oldest nurse in captivity"
13 November 2012
That is how the awe-inspiring Jean Colclough describes herself – having started her nurse training in September 1956.
No, that is not a misprint. 1956 - the year of the Suez
crisis and when Elvis entered the US chart for the first time with
Heartbreak Hotel. She is believed to be the longest-serving NHS
nurse in the country.
Jean, whose student wages were a princely £260 a year, is still
going strong - walking miles and miles of corridor every night as a
clinical site coordinator at Southend University Hospital.
Extremely reluctantly, she is retiring at the end of the year - and
only because her pension will be adversely affected if she
At nearly 75 and with twice the stamina and energy of those half
her age, Jean was not expected to live past the age of 40. Just
after she qualified in 1960, she was in the London Chest Hospital
to have most of her left lung removed. Due to the aggressive
condition bronchiectasis, her consultant told her she would be a
'respiratory cripple' by the age of 30.
Just 18 when she qualified and resplendent in her regulation
butterfly cap, pale blue dress, white apron and black lace-ups,
Jean was desperately shy and 'as green as grass' - so having to
deliver a bed bath or a urine bottle to young male orthopaedic
patients caused agonies of embarrassment. She still remembers the
humiliation of being summoned to sister's office when she was not
nimble enough on her feet and ended up in the patient's bed. She
received the stern rebuke: "When young men are confined to bed, you
have to be more vigilant."
Jean never thought she would ever get the hang of all those
'ectomies' and 'otomies' but, at the end of her training, she was
awarded the hospital's Johnson gold medal for excellence.
She had originally wanted to train as a doctor, but her parents
could not afford the university fees. But now she says: "I don't
think I could have done better than I have done. It's been lovely -
every ward I worked on was the best place I had ever been."
In November 1982, Jean was promoted to night sister. She has
never calculated her weekly mileage as she repeatedly tours the
wards and departments but, after bilateral replacements, claims to
have the 'best set of knees inSouthend Hospital'.
It is hard to imagine how she has ever found time to come to
work. When she is not in uniform, she runs a catering business -
thinking nothing of producing a three-course meal for 120. She
makes and decorates cakes, teaches cannulation and IV drug
administration to doctors and nurses, gardens, and treads the
boards with the East Essex Players where she also makes the
costumes. She has just finished a run in Fawlty Towers at
Southend's 100-year-old Palace theatre.
Jean says: "My retirement letter was the hardest I have ever had
to write. I was on my own and just sat there and grizzled. I would
happily stay on.
"Fifty-six years is a long time. Just stopping is not going to
be easy. I would certainly consider coming back on the bank. But
first we have to move house."
Friend and colleague, hospital discharge coordinator Sandra
Steeples, said: "Jean will be so greatly missed, and I wish I could
clone her - and bottle her energy!"