(WSVN) - A trailblazing South Florida nurse is set to retire, but not before looking back on a career defined by critical care, passion and longevity. 7’s Karen Hensel has her story in the 7 Spotlight.

Barbara Williams knows her way around an emergency room. Which makes sense, because this is where she has spent her life’s work for more than 50 years.

Barbara Williams, RN, Memorial Healthcare System: “I just loved everything about it. That’s when I knew that this was my passion, and this is what I would do for the rest of my life.”

Barbara attended Broward Public Schools when they were still segregated. She did not know growing up that she would end up in nursing.

Barbara Williams, RN: “I applied at Memorial and was hired. I had a young child at that time, 3 months old, so I really needed to work.”

That was in 1969. This September, Barbara’s career will have spanned a remarkable 53 years, all with the Memorial Healthcare System.

Barbara Williams, RN: “The high moments are when you have a patient come in that’s critically ill, and that patient comes back to see you, to say that, ‘You know what? You guys saved my life.'”

Memorial says Barbara is the longest serving employee in its history.

Barbara Williams, RN: “At the time, when I went there, I was the only African-American nurse at that particular time, that I recall. I was frightened at first, but then the people there treated me with so much respect that I lost that. You know, I had no more fear, and I think if you provide respect, you will get the respect back.”

Over the decades, Barbara Williams has made some history of her own at Memorial. She was the first Black person to hold a nurse leadership position in the ER. Her promotions include assistant head nurse, trauma center manager and interim director.

Vera Burke, RN, Memorial Healthcare System: “I view her as a trailblazer, because I know when she started, you know, the times have changed, and when she started, it was more difficult than today.”

Vera Burke is the director of emergency services at Memorial Hospital Miramar. Barbara hired her in 1998.

Now she is Barbara’s boss — and friend.

Vera Burke, RN: “When I started, I didn’t feel different, because I saw somebody like me in that position. She mentored us. She showed us not only how to be a nurse, but to be a great nurse.”

A great nurse, and Vera says, a calming presence under pressure.

Vera Burke, RN: “She kept all of us stable, so when the adrenaline hits, and we all are running around and going crazy, she kept us calm.”

While Barbara still has that patience, she no longer works in the ER with patients. She handles quality control.

Her office is adorned with colorful decorations, well wishes and a white board with a message.

Barbara Williams, RN: “‘The story that you tell yourself shapes your future.'”

As for her future…

Barbara Williams, RN: “I think Kenny Rogers said it, ‘Sometimes you know when to fold it.’ I know when to fold it.”

Barbara is set to retire from Memorial early next year but plans to continue to lead outside the ER.

Barbara Williams, RN: “I would like to have some type of organization where I could mentor young women. I think that I would be able to help them to be better leaders, better people.”

Decades of wisdom from a self-described “no nonsense” nurse, shared with a new generation.

Karen Hensel, 7News.

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