From reusable glass syringes and white pleated uniforms, starched caps and polished shoes … to disposable needles and scrubs. Nursing has changed quite a bit since Sarah Gilliland Sims and her daughter, Marilyn Gray, went through training, but the profession’s mission to help others has remained.
Sims graduated from the Georgia Baptist Hospital School of Nursing — now Mercer’s College of Nursing — in 1940 and is believed to be Mercer’s oldest living nursing alumna. Gray just celebrated her 50th class reunion, having graduated in 1969.
The Baptist Tabernacle Infirmary Training School for Nurses opened in Atlanta in 1902 as a two-year diploma program. The school changed to a three-year program a few years later, and by 1913, it was known as the Georgia Baptist Hospital School of Nursing to reflect the hospital’s change in ownership. It transitioned to the Georgia Baptist College of Nursing in 1989, merged with Mercer in 2001 and moved into a new academic building on Mercer’s Atlanta campus in 2002. All that history makes the Georgia Baptist College of Nursing at Mercer the longest established nursing program in Georgia.
Sims turned 101 on Oct. 29 and has two children, Gray and Paul Sims Jr.; four grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren. She was admitted to the nursing school in August 1937, one of 37 students in her class. Sims said she was a Baptist by faith and had heard about the school growing up in College Park, so she decided it was the place for her to go.
“I hadn’t thought about doing anything else. That was all I wanted to be,” Sims said about going into nursing. “(Nursing school) was a good experience. The three years were up before I could realize. It gave me so much experience, and it was so helpful.”
Gray followed in her mother’s footsteps when it came time to choose a profession and a school.
“I decided that nursing suited me more than anything. I decided since Mother was a nurse and it was a good occupation, I would be the same. I wanted to be a helper, a server for others,” she said. “The school did have a great reputation, better than other nearby schools. I mainly went there because that’s where she went.”
Sims and Gray, who now live just a few miles apart in Marietta, recalled working at Georgia Baptist Hospital when they were students. The student nurses staffed much of the hospital and received the best clinical education possible, Gray said. They learned to do everything and knew how to run the floor by the time they graduated.
After finishing school, Sims worked at children’s hospitals in Atlanta and then Washington, D.C., before marrying Paul Sims Sr., who passed away in 2005. The couple traveled throughout the United States as Paul was stationed in various cities during World War II, and Sims took up private duty nursing after returning to College Park. She retired from nursing in 1970 and lived in College Park until about three years ago.
“(Nursing) teaches you so many things about responsibility. You can be helpful for years to come,” Sims said. “I’m still thankful that I went into this work and did it for many years. I know that it was the right thing to do at the time.”
Gray, who has lived in Marietta for 40 years and has two children and nine grandchildren, went on to work on the orthopedics floor and then the stroke unit at Georgia Baptist Hospital; was a nurse in a doctor’s office for about 20 years; and worked with Aetna and similar companies until she retired in 2016.
“I just enjoyed taking care of the different patients. I really just enjoyed nursing … period,” she said. “Being a nurse, you learn so many things in so many areas. I think it’s just a rewarding experience that you carry with you through life.”