Date: October 1st, 2007
For 24 years Sally Gordon has served as Nebraska’s first woman Sergeant at Arms. At age 98, she has no plans on stopping.
“As long as I’m in good health, and I can continue to do this, I will,” she said.
Often called “red coats,” the sergeants at arms provide security for the state legislature. Duties include greeting the public, attending hearings, bringing notes from lobbyists to senators, and chasing after missing-in-action senators when a vote is called.
“Politicians shape our lives. They have to vote with their conscience, and work according to the law. It’s a very difficult job, and some people just don’t appreciate the work that politicians do.”
The Nebraska State Legislature is unique in that it is the only American state legislature that is unicameral (consisting of a single legislative chamber) and nonpartisan. The Nebraska State Legislature has two sessions. The first session convenes for 60 days, and the second session convenes for 90 days. Sally admits that her job has its share of challenges. Sergeants at arms have to be aware of their image, since they’re on television and in the public eye. According to Sally, although sergeants at arms try not to give their opinions on issues, they try to be informed and learn as much as they can when there’s a discussion in the legislature.
“It is a learning experience because you learn to deal with people. I’ve been there for 24 years, and I am always learning, because there’s always something to learn.”
Born in Chicago, March 26, 1909, to Russian immigrants, Sally moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, where she graduated from high school and took some college courses. Having worked since the age of 17, Sally’s resume shows a lifetime full of numerous, diverse jobs. In 1927, she began working for the Home Savings and Loan Association. From there she worked as a secretary for Nebraska Governors Brooks, Morrison, and Tiemann. She also held jobs as a court reporter, with the Selective Service and at two universities. In 1969, she became the administrative assistant for the Centennial Education Program. Sally offered tours of the governor’s mansion through administrations that spanned from Governors Kerrey to Johanns. She was recommended for her current position by someone who was familiar with her work in the governor’s office.
After 80 years in the workforce, Sally has noticed many changes in the working world, especially when it comes to people’s work ethic.
“When I worked for Governor Brooks, I worked Saturdays and Sundays, until two or three o’clock in the morning, until I lost 19 pounds and almost my marriage. But I had to prove something, because I wanted to learn my job. These days, some people get by with doing as little as possible. They don’t seem to have the same dedication to their job as they used to.”
Besides work, Sally enjoys other activities, such as playing the violin, writing poetry, and knitting (usually donated to charity). At age 49, she began modeling for the Hovland-Swanson department store. “I had taken the picture of myself that was taken at the Governor’s conference and said to them, ‘look, all of your models don’t have to be young and gorgeous,’” she said laughing. “Needless to say, I got the job.” She modeled for various stores and charities until last year.
The mother of four, grandmother of seven, and great grandmother of six, Sally takes pride in her family and their accomplishments. But her life has not been without some sadness; Sally’s husband died in 1969 and she suffered the loss of her daughter, Connie, two years ago. “It has changed my life in some respects, but I feel her presence. I’m in awe of my kids and their families. They have always been achievers.”
Sally does not adhere to any specific diet. However, she admits to watching what she eats closely, which includes steamed vegetables, homemade bread and peanut butter. “I like to tell people not to dwell on their aliments. People pop pills instead of having a good diet. I eat well.” Sally is also very active. Her husband asked her to sell her car in 1969, and since then, her choice of transportation has been by foot. Sally walks to work at the Capitol building, to the grocery store, and even to the mall.
Sally’s life has been recorded in People Magazine, Money Talk, Life Lines, and Living Well. Her friend Mary Pipher, author of Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of our Elders, devoted a chapter in her book to Gordon, and included some of her recipes. In 2006, Sally was named Outstanding Older Worker for Nebraska.
Looking back on her career, Sally is most proud of the recognition she has received, which she attributes to her work ethic. She advises other seniors to stay active, volunteer if they don’t already have a job, and get out and see the beauty of the world.
As for her future plans, Sally intends to start going through some family memorabilia, especially those of her deceased daughter. “I keep dwelling on the past but God did not give us the rewind, he just gave us the pause and fast forward. I do have a good life, and I’m very grateful for it.”