WORKING life for Catherine Atkinson began two days before her 18th birthday when she started her nursing training.
Catherine, who lives in Warkworth in Northumberland, was one of 36 new student nurses at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle in 1963.
Now she is helping to plan a 50th anniversary reunion which will take place in October.
A 25-year reunion in 1988 was organised by Anne Craft (nee Nicholson), who is also playing a leading role in setting up the 50th event. Anne, who lives in Embleton, Northumberland, is president of the RVI Nurses’ League.
Anne and Catherine, along with co-organisers Sheila Lough (nee McGuire) from Ogle in Northumberland, Jo Marshall (nee Potts), of Durham and Liz Slater (nee Weaver) from Pocklington near York, are still seeking six of their old group for the October 5 occasion. It will start with a tour of the RVI followed by the annual Nurses’ League meeting with plans for a talk about the history of the hospital, and dinner at a Newcastle hotel.
Catherine, whose varied career included being manager for the National Trust’s Lindisfarne Castle and Seaton Delaval Hall properties in Northumberland, is compiling a 50th anniversary booklet.
She said: “I am trying to get amusing nursing stories, as to what it was like to train as a nurse 50 years ago, from everyone. What seemed rather insignificant 50 years ago is quite amusing in today’s world.
“Our training was three years to become a State Registered Nurse and then you had to stay on at the RVI for a further year to get your RVI badge. Most of us did this and then went our separate ways.
“It was hard work, with 12-hour shifts for 10 nights running, but there was great camaraderie and we had a wonderful time.
“But we may not recognise the RVI of today, which has been so modernised and is bigger and hi-tech.”
The six group members who have still to be traced are Jean Blenkinsopp, Chris Gorge, Joan Harrison, Janice Matthews, Susan Seagrave and Ann Weir.
Catherine lives with husband Peter, formerly governor of Acklington Prison in Northumberland, whose grandmother and great aunt both trained as nurses at the old Newcastle infirmary. It stood on the site now occupied by the Centre for Life.
The couple have a St Cuthbert’s silver cross which was presented to the infirmary’s nurses in 1902 to celebrate the King’s coronation.
Catherine grew up in Durham City, where her father was a canon at the cathedral. She became an operating theatre sister in a nursing career spanning 17 years.
Catherine then became a freelance textile designer and a lecturer in the subject and later a non-executive director with the Northumberland Health Authority.
She spent eight years with the National Trust before retiring in 2011.
The RVI is holding a drop-in event at the hospital from 10am-6pm on February 13 into plans for a multi-storey car park and proposals for the site’s future growth.