California’s oldest and longest-serving state employee has died at age 102 after nearly eight decades on the job.
May Lee was a few weeks shy of her birthday when she died May 26, according to Jennifer Iida, a spokesperson for the California Department of General Services. Lee worked for the state for 79 years, starting in accounting at the Department of Finance in 1943, then switching to the Department of General Services when it was created in 1963.
After retiring from the Department of General Services in the 1980s, Lee worked as a retired annuitant until last year, meaning she was rehired onto the payroll as a part-time worker while drawing retirement benefits.
“We will greatly miss her enthusiastic and cheerful disposition along with her irreplaceable institutional knowledge,” Iida said in a statement. “She was an inspiration to us all.”
Lee was honored by Gov. Gavin Newsom during Older Americans Month in 2019, when she was 99, for being the longest-serving state employee.
She was credited with saving millions of dollars through revenue-generating measures, finding accounting errors and cutting costs. She also wrote sections of the California Government Code.
A relative of Lee’s did not respond to a request for comment.
In a 2021 interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Lee said she would work until she could not anymore, pointing to her brother who worked until he died at age 85.
Her longevity was thanks to “good genes and keeping busy,” she told the Union-Tribune, adding that she maintained a healthy diet of fish, chicken, vegetables, very few processed foods and no fried foods.
A party for her 100th birthday with about 2,000 people invited was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The next year, colleagues took her out to lunch and brought a cake for her 101st birthday. It had one candle, a symbol of the start of a new century.
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