Christmas just another work day for some

By Argen Duncan: PNT Senior Writer

While most people are opening presents and eating a big meal with loved ones Christmas Day, many others are hard at work.

Still, a lot of those dedicated employees say they don’t mind.

Gayle Richerson, director of patient care at Roosevelt General Hospital, said she has worked on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve most of her more than 40 years in nursing.

“I don’t feel bad about it because a nurse is who I am, not just what I do, and I know people need care 365 days a year,” she said.

Richerson believes her purpose in life is to minister to people, and her work allows her to do that. Also, many of her friends are working at the hospital that day, so she spends the time with them.

RGH registered nurse Stephanie Walley is working on Christmas Day for the first time this year. She volunteered to work in the afternoon because other nurses were on vacation or sick.

“And now I’m kind of wondering what I got myself into, but I’ll do anything to help,” she said.

Sonic manager Maribel Tarango agreed to work on Christmas Day since she hadn’t in five years and, unlike some other employees, she doesn’t have children.

“It’s fine,” she said. “I volunteered, actually.”

Portales Fire Department Battalion Chief Lance Hill also plans to spend today working, as he usually does on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

“It’s a sacrifice that when I took the job I knew I’d have to make, and it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make and my family’s willing to make for the safety of others,” he said.

Families seem to understand when someone needs to work. Richerson said her children are used to her being gone Christmas Day, and Walley said her family doesn’t mind, “especially because I get time and a half.”

Portales Police Detective Kirk Wilson, who has worked on Christmas most of the past nine years, said he celebrates with family and friends at a different time if he doesn’t have the day off.

“So Christmas Day itself was pretty much like working any other day,” he said.

Wilson celebrated Christmas with his wife and parents on Thanksgiving, since they were already together and the holidays are busy.

To work around her hospital schedule, Walley said she would wake her children up early to open presents and then go to the hospital at noon. Richerson said her family lights advent candles and reads the Christmas story on Christmas Eve, and then has a big meal Christmas day whenever her work schedule allows.

Hill celebrates on Christmas Eve or before he goes to the fire station at 7 a.m. on Christmas Day. As the shift commander, he allows his firefighters to go home during work hours as long as they stay ready to respond to calls.

Working on Christmas Day, Wilson said, he sees fewer people, but those he does see smile and wave and sometimes invite him over for dinner. He “graciously declines” because he has work to do.

This year, Wilson has Christmas Day off.

“I feel for the officers that are working it,” he said.

However, Wilson said, he knows their families understand and Christmas comes on a different day next year, so another shift may cover the holiday. It all works out in the end, he said.