Mary Shipp got up at 5 a.m., as she usually does, and headed to work Monday, as she has for years.
She didn’t need to be at Porky’s Public House and Eatery in Longview until 9 a.m., but she often comes in an hour early, said Porky’s bartender Craig Brewer. “She’s awesome — always on time, never calls in (sick).”
Shipp has been a mainstay in Porky’s kitchen since it opened almost 19 years ago, and the octogenarian’s contributions are as well-known as her presence at the grill.
“She makes great soups,” fellow cook Matt Griffith said. He said her specialties, which include hot beef sandwiches and enchiladas, have been house hits since before he started working at the restaurant on Industrial Way.
On Monday, Griffith was getting things in place as Shipp cooked bacon to get ready for the lunch rush in a kitchen not quite wide enough for two-way traffic. But she knows her way around a kitchen, no problem.
When Shipp turns 88 on June 20, she won’t be a year closer to retirement — just a year further into her career.
“Work keeps you going,” she said, and that she has no plans to stop if she doesn’t have to.
Studies have debated whether retirement leads to an increased mortality rate, but nothing is conclusive. Shipp, though, is pretty sure of her hypothesis.
Modest and reserved but not to be trifled with, Shipp has been in the area for decades, working at the Kalama Cafe after owning her own restaurant in Woodland. She started out with her first dishwashing job when she was 15 in her native Iowa. She laughed at the memory of her days in the dish pit, quickly looking around for something more to do 15 minutes before Porky’s was scheduled to open its doors for the day.
Shipp is one of three cooks in the kitchen at lunch time, working from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays. She loves what she does, but “three or four days are enough for me now,” she said.
“She’s quick-witted,” Griffith said. “We have a good time back there.”
Shipp lives with and cares for her daughter in Kalama, and while she says she doesn’t do much with her spare time, she definitely gets out. Her husband died 15 years ago.
Over the weekend, she took her daughter to see a performance by Abbey Road, a Beatles cover band.
“We left early because it was too noisy,” Shipp said. “(My daughter) liked it. I didn’t.”
As cars and trucks idled at the intersection out the windows, Shipp grew tired of being idle in the kitchen and threw another half-dozen strips of bacon on the sweet-smelling grill. It was going to be just another day.
“If you enjoy your work, you just work,” Shipp said. “I don’t like to sit at home and do nothing.”