CHARLESTON—When Sue Veon retires on Nov. 5, it will mark the end of an era.
The obstetrics nurse was one of the last women to graduate from the St. Francis Xavier Hospital School of Nursing and is also one of the last still working.
That makes her sound ancient, but in reality, Veon has barely changed in the 45 years since she was named second honor grad from her class of 28. She may have some gray strands in her dark hair, and happy lines on her face, but she is still remarkably youthful.
Maybe it’s from being around young couples and babies for 42 years. The nurse started with post partum and nursery work, then moved to labor and delivery.
Veon graduated from the nursing school in 1965, just three years before it closed.
Sister Anne Francis Campbell, archivist with the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, said her congregation opened the school in 1900 and closed it in 1968.
In those years, the sisters ran a strict operation, with students back in their rooms by 9 p.m., Veon said. Those were the days of white nursing caps, starched uniforms and polished white shoes.
Not only were academic standards high, appearance and manners were also placed at a premium. Veon said the sisters would stand at the classroom door, and if a girl’s hair touched her collar or her shoes weren’t shined, she didn’t go in.
The school was in a large house on the peninsula, with a reception area on the first floor where the young ladies could meet their dates. Classes were on the second floor, and living quarters for the students and sisters went up to the sixth.
Veon, a cradle Catholic and member of St. Joseph Church, said this was the first time she had gone to school with other faiths. Regardless of their religion, nobody thought about misbehaving, not with the sisters living above them.
After graduation, the young nurse married Lt. Richard Veon and they traveled to Texas and Alabama for his training with the U.S. Army. They had just welcomed their son into the world when tragedy struck, and the new husband and father was killed in a midair helicopter collision during maneuvers.
Veon, who grew up in Charleston and graduated from Bishop England High School, returned to be with her parents, her sister Mary, and her friends.
A few years later, she started working at St. Francis Hospital — the original one, where she was born — and has been with the organization ever since.
She has been talking about retirement for a long time now, so long in fact that nobody believed her when she decided that, this time, the time was right.
Laughing, she noted that originally she was going to retire and join her sister in Florida, but she took so long, her sister finally gave up and moved back to Charleston.
It’s been a running joke among her co-workers, too, but as the day draws near, they have come to accept that it will really happen.
Susan Hanson, who has worked with Veon for 12 years, choked up as she talked about her “Charleston mom” leaving.
“We’re excited for her, but she’s going to be so sorely missed,” Hanson said. “She’s the mother to all of us on the floor.”
She said Veon was always gracious and giving, remembering their children’s birthdays and reaching out in times of need.
Vickie Farris, a co-worker and friend for 18 years, attributes Veon’s compassionate personality to her strong faith.
“She’s an absolute delight,” Farris said. “It seems like she always has the right thing to say at the right time.”
The camaraderie she shares with her fellow labor and delivery nurses is at least part of the reason she has resisted retirement so long.
“These girls are my family,” Veon said.
The rest of her family — her son Richard, daughter-in-law and grandchildren — are living in the Pennsylvania area, which, interestingly, is where her husband grew up and where his family still lives.
Veon said she will spend time visiting them. She also plans to travel around the United States with her sister and volunteer with Pet Helpers.
She declined a hospital-wide retirement party, but did say farewell to her co-workers at a small celebration at a neighborhood pavilion, complete with an outdoor fire, gifts and a whole menu of her favorite food — hotdogs.
“I just wanted to celebrate with my girls,” Veon said.
Her fellow nurses said they fully expect to see her on the OB floor again, this time in a volunteer’s uniform.