My Mother


The Arizona Daily Star
May 9, 1993

Just starting at 79
Grandmother of 9 soon to be Ph.D.

Author: Janet Kornblum; The Arizona Daily Star

What else would you expect from Ann Presley?

On May 15, Presley will get her doctorate in nursing, quite an accomplishment for anyone, but perhaps all the more impressive for Presley, considering that she’s 17 days shy of 80.

It was bound to happen sooner or later. Presley always wanted to get a Ph.D.

But between raising four children with her husband, getting a bachelor’s degree, two master’s and working full time as a public health nurse, she just never got around to it.

Until she came to Tucson at 73 to retire and be a grandmother.

“I just got here thinking that tennis and mountain climbing would be just everything I would want,” says Presley, an energetic woman prone toward the flamboyant and eschewing the stereotypical.

“And do you know that it wasn’t so fulfilling?” she asks, her voice rising in sing-song surprise prompted by a gentle Southern accent left over from a childhood spent in Oklahoma and Arkansas.

She had discovered only after she arrived that Tucson was home to a university, and a large one at that.

No reason not to
So after eight months of retirement, Presley took her various papers, awards and enthusiasm down to the University of Arizona College of Nursing to find out whether she could qualify for the doctoral program the following year.

“I’ve always said I want to be a Ph.D. before I die,” says Presley. And at the time, she thought, “I can’t think of any reason not to. There’s not one reason not to. My children are up and gone. It’s a challenge. I like challenges.”

It wasn’t that she wanted to retire. She was doing her best work as a nurse who inspected programs for the Department of Defense.

And for her, work always has been a joy. “I love working,” she says, elongating the word love into a kind of sigh. “That’s the wrong name for work, because it’s always fulfilling to me. Work is not labor. The kind of work I do gives me pleasure. It always has.

“So I have had my cake and I ate it all,” she says with an easy smile and a school-girl giggle.

Her trip to the UA was successful. She went that day in September 1986 as an applicant and that very same day, “I went home a student.”

Beverly McCord, retired professor emeritus and former associate dean for graduate programs in nursing, remembers that day well.

Presley walked in saying she was interested in gerontological nursing. “I just thought, `This is too good to pass up,’ ” McCord says. “I just thought she’d be a tremendous asset to gerontological nursing. Obviously, she had the intellect and the motivation.”

Started the processing
“After I finished my little interview, I said, `Well, let’s get on with it,’ ” McCord recalls. “We decided to start the processing that day.

“I just had a feeling that she’d make a contribution. I still have a feeling she’s going to make her contribution and I’m not sure in what way.”

Neither is Presley. But she’s contemplating teaching a course on modern grandparenting, helping people cope with the new challenges of the day.

Then of course, there could be follow-up on her own doctoral dissertation, titled “Nurse’s recognition and identification of elder abuse by care givers.”

She says it’s important that nurses learn how to better identify when care givers of the elderly are abusive, especially as the population ages.

And yet, she’s already making contributions – with undergraduates.

Patricia King, a nurse and senior lecturer at the College of Nursing, routinely invites Presley to her course to “exemplify how an older person can continue to go on.”

And Presley does it. With just one-half hour in front of undergraduates, “she instills in the students a desire for learning and a desire to be a nurse,” King says. “It’s truly amazing.

“She turns you on. You just sort of get this burst of energy after you’ve been with her. She is just so positive. Even if she has setbacks, she always looks to the positive side.”

When Presley first returned to school, she befriended undergraduates, even hosting slumber parties complete with pizza and cola at her north Tucson desert home.

Students “just loved Ann,” McCord says, “and not in a motherly way. They were peers, let me tell you. And they could discuss things back and forth. There was not an age barrier.”

Gets along with younger people
Presley, herself says, “I get along better with younger-aged people than my own age. I’m more their style. I really am.”

And perhaps not just when it comes to attitude.

Today she is wearing three large silver rings loaded with moonstones, a digital watch with 2-inch numbers on the face and, of course, stylish pink tennis shoes.

Presley is just a happy person, a happiness born of a fulfilling life.

“I am proud that I have lived long enough to serve mankind, because I think I’ve done more good than harm,” she says.

“I haven’t been perfect and I’ve made lots of mistakes, but I was just lucky to be at the right spot at the right time in a lot of situations.”

Take her choice to become a nurse in the first place – one born of the love she had of her father, who was a train conductor.

“I went to a war rally with my dad and I remember holding onto his hand and hearing all that music,” she recalls. “And here is this beautiful float with a woman with a white dress on and a red cross coming in.

“I asked dad who that person was. He said she was a trained nurse. I thought he said `train,’ ” she laughs. “I said, `Dad, I’m going to be a train nurse so I can be with you all day long and all the time you’re working.’ Oh, I was in love with him. That was my first love,” she giggles.

Even after finding out that she wouldn’t be working all day with her father, her mind was set. And it was never changed. “I was just a natural for nursing.”

Raised four children
But her greatest stroke of luck and joy, she says and asks that it be emphasized on this Mother’s Day, has been raising her four children and seeing them become successful – and give her nine grandchildren.

Even though her husband died when she was 49, leaving her with four children ranging in age from 5 to 20, she considers herself lucky to have been trained, to have had a job and to have been able to get a loan to go back to college.

“The hand of God’s been in everything I do, and I know it,” she says.

But she also acknowledges that she’s worked hard to get where she is, still not believing, herself, that she’s getting a doctorate.

“When I look back and try to analyze myself, I think the reason I’m achieving this is mostly, that’s been the pattern of my life.

“You see those diplomas and those things?” she asks, pointing at a stack of plaques that range from an elementary school spelling award to her many degrees.

“I like to win,” she says, adding hastily, “I’m not trying to compete with other people.

“Eleanor Roosevelt said: `Try to achieve that which you think you cannot achieve.’

“You know, that stuck with me, and that was a long time ago. I’ve adopted that. One of the most important philosophies I have is I believe learning is a lifelong process.

“A lot of people believe in the stereotype in age and they think that when you get to a certain age like 62 to 65 that it’s over. It certainly isn’t if you don’t want it to be, because there’s so much out there.

“You just started, really.”

Copyright 1993, 1999 The Arizona Daily Star
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