A gray metal filing cabinet sat on the edge of Sandra Richbourg’s desk in her half-packed office the week before she is set to retire.
It has four drawers with each front holding an index card carefully labeled: A-G, H-P and so on through the alphabet.
The cabinet doesn’t look like anything special. It has a few dings, and the cards inside have yellowed with age.
But it’s a symbol of 45 years of work – of Richbourg’s dedication since 1968 to help the Wake County Human Services department run smoothly. Richbourg, an administrative assistant and the county’s longest-tenured current employee, will retire Thursday.
When the department moved in 1994, these carefully-filed cards that track the names and birthdays of those who had moved through the county’s child welfare system almost ended up in the trash.
But Richbourg saved the cards, bundling them in thick rubber bands until she could find a new place to store them. She has maintained the card database since 1977, when she went to work in the department’s foster care section.
“This is history,” she said, explaining why she had to save the cards, which even today prove useful in tracing family relationships. But she’s shy about taking any credit for preserving the stories they represent.
“I’m just a pack rat,” she said.
But co-workers point out Richbourg’s impressive memory – she can recall names from the 1970s even now – and her dedication to the children she helped serve.
Donna Godwin, who has worked with Richbourg for more than three decades, remembers her easy way with people on the phone and the way she would track down a social worker or administrator so that the callers could get the answers they needed.
“She was determined that somebody was going to help that person on the phone,” Godwin said.
Richbourg, 66, has lived in Raleigh for her entire life, except for a few years as young girl when her father took a job in West Virginia. She graduated from Broughton High School in 1966 and then from the Hardbarger Junior College of Business in 1968.
Richbourg started with the county as a general clerk typist and eventually sought out work in the foster care section because she wanted to help children. For the past two years, she has been the department’s adoption secretary.
Her career has been a good one, Richbourg said. Once she’s officially retired, she’s looking forward to volunteering at a hospital or animal shelter and eventually doing some traveling.
“I’m happy, but I’m sad to leave all of my friends here,” she said.