Saying goodbye to nursing legend Catherine Crumbs

Catherine Crumbs, RNC, M.S.N., A.R.N.P.

ST. PETERSBURG – Born May 29, 1947, at Mercy Hospital in St. Petersburg, Catherine Crumbs had a caring personality and a giving spirit that many will never forget. She was a highly qualified, consummate professional who provided served as a nurse practitioner, nurse educator, and clinical nurse specialist.

Mrs. Crumbs worked within Bayfront Health System, St. Petersburg, Pinellas County Health Department and Bay Pines VA Healthcare System. With more than four decades of experience in her field, she had a special expertise in gerontology and medical/surgical nursing.

She started her nursing career at Mercy Hospital as a candy striper while attending Gibbs High School. She gave patients water, read to them and wrote letters for them. She was taught basic patient care, which came in handy since she was the only person one burn victim would allow to touch her.

After finishing high school, she became a nurse’s aide at Mound Park. She went on to earn a licensed practical nurse certification in 1972, and an associate degree in nursing in 1978 from St. Petersburg Junior College.

She wasn’t done learning, though. While raising children and taking care of her husband, she earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing in 1986, followed by a Master of Science degree in Nursing with a Nurse Practitioner concentration in 1990 from the University of South Florida.

“I took one class at a time. It took me 20 years to get where I am,” Crumbs told The Weekly Challenger back in 2016.

Attending St. Petersburg Junior College soon after forced integration, she persevered through the professors telling her that she couldn’t learn and white students calling her names.

“I could tell you some stories that would make you cry,” she said. “We had to fight to get through school. All you heard is that you weren’t good enough or smart enough.”

Once she got a tutor to teach her how to study, the rest was history. Almost 20 years after that ordeal, she ended up teaching nursing at St. Petersburg College, retiring in 2013.

In 1977, Mrs. Crumbs began tutoring licensed practical and registered nursing students from Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties at the Pinellas County Urban League with her colleague Betty Scott under the leadership of former president and CEO James O. Simmons.

Mrs. Crumbs said a teacher should be like a locksmith. “You have to find what key that will unlock their brains. Not everyone learns the same.”

She unselfishly gave of her time and talent by willingly giving back to the community for more than 43 years. Every year, she and her nursing students would conduct health screenings to at-risk residents in St. Petersburg while participating in the Urban League’s Crime Prevention Run.

One pivotal moment for Mrs. Crumbs was when former NFL player Derrick Brooks acknowledged her at the Urban League’s Equal Opportunity Day Gala. He said from the stage, “If I was only a few years older.” This made her day, and she talked about it for weeks.

Mrs. Crumbs endured many challenges in her nursing career, but it did not stop her from speaking out and standing up for her beliefs.  One of her favorite quotes was “unjust won’t thrive” long before the Black Live Matters Movement garnered attention.

She was instrumental in forming the Pathway Program at St. Petersburg College to increase minority presence and gender equity in health care professions. Beginning in 1992, the program was created for disadvantaged and underrepresented students.

Mrs. Crumbs worked on the task force comprised of former St. Petersburg Junior College President Carl Kuttler, faculty and community leaders, including former St. Petersburg NAACP president Garnelle Jenkins and the Urban League’s Simmons to diversify health programs.

Mrs. Crumbs was a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and former president of the National Black Nurses Association, St. Petersburg Chapter. For her wealth of nursing excellence, she received numerous awards and recognitions, both locally and nationally.

She was listed in the Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers, the Who’s Who in American Nursing and the Who’s Who of Women Executives. She also served as a Professor Emeritus at St. Petersburg College.

Mrs. Crumbs dedicated her life to delivering the highest standard of quality and compassionate care to her patients.  She attributed her successes to her firm conviction that nursing was her God-given purpose.

She devoted her life to helping people and teaching her students how to be the best possible nurse they can be. Mrs. Crumbs’ legacy will be remembered through the many lives she touched; the students she assisted in becoming successful nurses and the inspiration she provided while helping others further their education.

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