DSHS employee retires after incredible 51-year career


Patricia Emsley broke barriers for women at DVR and developed benefits planning services

Contact: Jessica Nelson, DSHS Office of Communications

Jessica.Nelson1@dshs.wa.gov or (360) 628–1043

Patricia Emsley is celebrating a milestone very few people have achieved: a career spanning 51.5 years, nearly all at one place — DSHS’ Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. She’s so dedicated to the work she even tried to retire once before but was back on the job just three months later.

Patricia Emsley retired from DSHS after a career spanning 51 years

Patricia started at DVR when she was just 19 years old. She was looking through job openings with the state when something caught her eye.

“I saw Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, and I said to myself, I can’t even pronounce that, what is that?” says Patricia. “And so anyway, I looked into it a little bit. I called and did kind of an interview with the person, and I applied for a receptionist position. And so that was my first position with the state.”

Since then, Patricia has held many positions with DVR, most recently as a program manager with the Ticket to Work and Benefits Planning Program. She helped pave the way for female vocational rehabilitation counselors as one of the first women hired for the job in Washington, battling stereotypes along the way. She says the person interviewing her to be a counselor was convinced she would fail because women “have too much compassion.”

“I proved to them that I could do it,” she said. “The rehabilitation technician that was working with me, her and I, when we met, we said, we’re going to show them that we can do it.”

Over the years, Patricia worked her way up to the position of supervisor, before briefly retiring after 32 years of service in 2004. She was back working part-time just three months later and returned to full-time work to help develop DVR’s benefits planning services, helping customers keep their benefits while still being able to work.

Patricia has many memories of helping DVR customers, but one really stands out. She helped a customer who had thoughts of suicide get mental health treatment.

“I also kept reassuring the individual, you know, that you have so much potential, you know, but I know there are things that you need to work on,” she says. She also helped them sign up for a class, and soon the customer was pursuing a bachelor’s degree. “And he got a position with DSHS and a good paying position. He wrote me a letter that said, ‘I came to you suicidal. I left feeling like I was at the top of the world.’ I still cry at this date talking about it because I knew he had so much potential. Yeah. That’s what I love is helping people to achieve their potential.”

After Patricia retires at the end of October, she will still have lots of things to keep her busy. She has some trips planned, she runs a small antique business and she’ll do more volunteer work with ALTRUSA, an organization helping people in the community. But that’s just the beginning.

“I also love to garden and I’m going to do some more hiking. I’m starting to do weight training and I want to get into that,” she says. No matter what she does, she’ll always spread the word about DVR. “I’ve given my all and I love, I love DVR…I’m going to continue talking about vocational rehab.”