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Portraits by Other Means

Work, Work, Work, Die

Work, Work, Work, Die
Credit: Jamil Soni Neto

Having a job is cool. Once I had the same one for two years, which is 8 percent of my life. I don’t work at that job anymore, so I guess I will not be breaking any tenure records soon.

Ron Akana, longest-serving flight attendant

Yes, Mr. Akana has worked as a flight attendant for 63 years, clocking some 20 million miles along the way, the equivalent of circling the globe about 800 times or flying roughly 40 times to the moon and back. Though no one tracks seniority across all airlines, he is widely believed to hold the title of longest-serving flight attendant in the United States.


Mr. Akana, 83, has just about seen it all. In his early years, impeccably dressed passengers were served seafood salad and congregated at the cocktail bar on board.

Robert Byrd, longest-serving member of Congress in history

Mr. Byrd’s perspective on the world changed over the years. A former member of the Ku Klux Klan, he filibustered against the 1964 Civil Rights Act only to come to back civil rights measures and Mr. Obama. A supporter of the Vietnam War, he became a fierce critic, decades later, of the war in Iraq. In 1964, the Americans for Democratic Action, the liberal lobbying group, found that his views and the group’s aligned only 16 percent of the time. In 2005, he got an A.D.A. rating of 95.

Gwendoline Chamberlain, long-serving English waitress

A 92-year-old, thought to be the oldest waitress in Gloucestershire and possibly even in the whole country, has been given an award for her work in the community.


Gwendoline, of Cam, has been pouring tea for members of the Dursley Day Centre since it opened in the early 1960s.

Even at the age of 92 she still turns up every week to do her shift and her dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed.

But Gwendoline doesn’t see what all the fuss is about. “I don’t really know why I have won this award, I am just doing my job as I have always done,” she said on finding out she had won.

Eugenia Charles, longest-serving female prime minister

An isolated woman in politics, she faced up heroically to opponents who abused her because she was unmarried and childless. Despite this, she never really identified with feminist issues or gave Caribbean women, who carry many burdens, particular consideration.


Yet she was rarely stuffy, never encouraged the notion of a cult of personality and had little time for what she saw as Mrs Thatcher's affectations. During her years in office, she would see constituents and visitors in her modest office or on the sweeping verandah of her family home, Wall House. There she would sit in a battered wooden chair, her shoes kicked off, watching a miniature TV set and eating chunks of sugarcane. It was a tribute to Dame Eugenia—as she became in 1991—that outside just a single bored and sleepy policeman stood guard.

John Dingell, longest currently serving member of Congress

The 83-year-old Dingell entered the U.S. House in December 1955 to replace his late father.

Nicknamed “Big John” for his imposing 6-foot-3-inch frame and sometimes intimidating manner, Dingell has been an institution in Congress for decades. He’s wielded power over issues ranging from air quality and consumer protection to health care, automakers and energy.

William O. Douglas, longest-serving Supreme Court justice

When he was a small child, William O. Douglas was stricken with infantile paralysis, better known as poliomyelitis or polio. It was not clear at first that he would live, and after he survived his doctor offered to his family the conventional medical wisdom of the time: He would live a shortened life of less than 40 years on polio-crippled legs.


Douglas later wrote: “Concentrated exercise, like sprinting or wrestling, made me feel faint; and sometimes I’d be sick at my stomach or get a severe headache. I was deeply sensitive about my condition and used many a stratagem to conceal my physical weakness.”

John Straffen, longest-serving British prisoner

An insider at Long Lartin [prison] said: “He’s still lively. He works as a cleaner in the craft shop and makes tea for the officers. They treat him well, call him by his first name and often take time to chat with him.”


TMN Editor Leah Finnegan is from Illinois by way of Texas. She splits her time between New York City and her website. More by Leah Finnegan