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Obituary of Marie Ann Long: Navy nurse and caretaker extraordinaire

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 30, 2012 - Marie Long was crystal clear about what she wanted to do with her life. She wanted to be a nurse. More specifically, she wanted to take care of people. She did so as a Navy nurse during two wars, as a hospital operating room nurse in St. Louis and through a lay ministry for the bereaved in her parish.

In the early ‘90s, she established an Honor Guard at St. Raphael’s the Archangel Church in St. Louis to provide a dignified and joyous escort during the funeral Mass for parish members.

“After her mother died, she became very active in the parish helping people who were bereaved, particularly those with few family members,” said her niece, Anne-Marie Berger Moreno.

On Saturday (Dec. 1, 2012), a 16-person Honor Guard, clad in red blazers, will accompany Ms. Long’s body into St. Raphael’s for her funeral Mass. Ms. Long died Friday (Nov. 23) at Mercy, the hospital where she had trained, taught and worked for more than 40 years.

Ms. Long had lived in her south St. Louis home for more than 50 years. She was 91.

Wartime service

Ms. Long had been expected to die when she was 21. Shortly after joining the Navy Nurse Corps during World War II, she reported to Great Lakes Naval Base near Chicago in 1943. She quickly contracted meningitis, an almost incurable disease at the time. A medical mistake may have saved her life and advanced medical science.

Meningitis patients were being treated with the new miracle drug, penicillin, but the dosage was still guesswork. Ms. Long, who had lapsed into a coma, was given 10 times more penicillin than the doctor ordered. She recovered. The telegram announcing her illness is now a framed family treasure. (Ms. Long shared this account with viewers on the Nine Network. Watch the video here.)

After leaving Great Lakes, she served the remainder of her two-year stint at military hospitals at Camp Lejeune, N.C. and Corpus Christie, Texas. She left the bedside of the wounded during that time only once.

She begged for and was granted extraordinary leave to be at the birth of her youngest sister.

“Grandma was not young, and there was concern for her and the baby,” said Berger Moreno. “Aunt Ree Ree just had to be there in case anything went wrong.”

During the Korean War, she was recalled to active duty. She was stationed at Mare Island Naval Hospital in Vallejo, Calif. It was the first stop on American soil for servicemen wounded in battle.

“I got to work in the OR, which I enjoyed,” Ms. Long said in a 2007 KETC-TV 9 World War II documentary. “They got first aid treatment (in the field) and we would do more treatment in order to ship them off to a hospital closest to where they lived, (so) their families could visit.”

It was demanding work.

“You might have 70 men in one ward; no such thing as a private room unless you were dying,” she recalled. “They were all in bunk beds. It was hard to take care of someone in the top bunk.”

She spent the rest of her 20-year Navy career as a reservist, retiring in 1968 with the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

A great lady

Her two tours of duty punctuated a 40-year career in the operating room at St. John’s Mercy Hospital (now Mercy). She served for a time as president of the Catholic Nurses Association. In 1971, Ms. Long received the Mercy Award which noted: ‘The Sisters of Mercy are pleased to honor a great lady.’

After working long hours in Mercy’s operating room, she often spent evenings nursing critically ill patients at old City Hospital who couldn’t afford a private duty nurse.

Ms. Long headed a team of nurses who went to St. Mary’s Special School one night a week to care for the children so that the nuns could have the night off.

For many years, Sister Ann, an elderly nun, laid claim to her Sundays. It began with an offer of a ride when Ms. Long saw the nun waiting for a bus on a bitterly cold day. The “ride” became a standing date for many years.

Ms. Long staffed first aid booths at religious convocations, volunteered at blood drives, spent time at nursing homes with those whom others had forgotten and threw birthday bashes for people who had no one to give them a party.

“She looked after people who didn’t have family; she included them in her family,” said Jane Tayon. “She was one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met.”

Seventeen years ago, Ms. Long took Tayon, then a young mother of four with a six-month-old baby, under her wing.

“I never had a mother. She never had a daughter, and I think she liked ordering me around,” Tayon laughed. “She was a tough cookie.

“My husband loved her, my children loved her and I feel so lucky to have walked that path with her.”

God, family and service

Marie Ann Long, born Sept. 21, 1921, was Marie and Edward Long’s first child. The family lived on the city’s north side. When she was 7, her father, a roofer, died after falling three stories from a broken scaffold while working on an apartment building in Clayton.

It was during the Depression and her mother, at 26, had three children to raise alone. She went to work at a confectionery with her widowed sister and in the cafeteria at a Catholic school run by her uncle where she earned a dollar a day.

Times were so hard that Ms. Long and her sister shared clothes.

“The person who left the house first was the best dressed,” she told her family in later years, noting, “We were poor, but we didn’t know it.”

She graduated from old St. Mark's Academy, an all-girls school, in 1939. For more than 70 years, she planned the reunions.

On the occasion of Ms. Long’s 80th birthday, a classmate, Betty Mudd Ellison, wrote: “One of the luckiest days of my life was the day after Labor Day in 1934 when I walked into the eighth grade class at St. Marks to become a classmate of Marie Long.”

She received her bachelor’s degree from St. Francis College in Peoria, Ill., by taking night courses St. Francis offered through St. John’s Hospital School of Nursing. After earning her registered nurse degree at St. John’s, she promptly joined the Navy. 

“God, family and service to others made her who she was,” said, Carol Berger, the baby sister for whom she’d left her Navy post.

Ms. Long was preceded in death by her parents, her stepfather who raised her, Louis Altekruse, and a sister, Edwina (George) Lund.

In addition to her niece, Ms. Long’s survivors include her brother and sister, Thomas (Shirley) Long, of South St. Louis, and Carol (the late Patrick) Berger, of Des Peres.

Visitation will begin at 9 a.m. with Mass immediately following at 10:30 a.m., on Saturday, December 1, at St. Raphael the Archangel Church, 6040 Jamieson Avenue, in St. Louis. Burial will be in Resurrection Cemetery.

If desired, memorials in lieu of flowers would be appreciated to Our Lady's Inn, 4223 South Compton Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63111.

Gloria S. Ross is the head of Okara Communications and AfterWords, an obituary-writing and design service.

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