Occeletta Briggs Announced As 2018 ATHENA Leadership Award Recipient
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Occeletta Briggs Announced As 2018 ATHENA Leadership Award Recipient

It is with great pleasure, the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce announces the selection of Occeletta Briggs, as its 2018 ATHENA Leadership Award recipient. The annual ATHENA Award honors individuals who strive toward the highest levels of accomplishment, excel in their chosen business or profession, have demonstrated support for the advancement of business and professional women, have devoted time and energy to their community, and have actively mentored others. 

The ATHENA Award will be presented at the annual ATHENA Awards Luncheon on November 15th, 11:30am, at the Stockton Golf and Country Club.  Tickets for this high-profile event at $40 are available by calling the Greater Stockton Chamber of Chamber at (209) 547-2770 or by visiting

Born in segregated West Virginia, Occeletta Briggs overcame racial injustice with determination, hard work, and compassion, rising from staff nurse to first African American Director of Nursing at San Joaquin General Hospital. 

In her leadership roles, Occeletta expanded healthcare services to the indigent and developed San Joaquin’s patient classification system.  She initiated the practice of mother, infant, and father sharing the same room after birth and revamped the hospital’s birth education classes. As director of nursing, Occeletta increased the ratio of RNs to patients, helped develop the neonatal intensive care nursery and established the testing center for early detection of fetal disease in high-risk pregnancies. She also initiated and planned the “cuddler program” for volunteers to visit fragile infants. 

Occeletta co-founded the South Stockton Provider Group, which offers health care to underserved South Stockton residents and was a charter member of the Southeast Diabetes Society, dedicated to improving diabetic care. 

In 1989, Occeletta’s compassion and foresight helped prepare and clear the Emergency Room at San Joaquin General during the traumatic Cleveland School shooting, allowing the nurses to focus on the monumental disaster at hand. As a grief counselor, Occeletta also arranged for Mental Health counselors to come and assist in the process of giving the victim’s loved ones comfort and support. 

Occeletta stepped outside of patient care in 1992 to lead the team responsible for the 96-bed replacement facility for San Joaquin General Hospital. She immersed herself in the latest hospital technology, learned to read blueprints and understand code regulations and safety requirements. She visited hospitals statewide, which prompted her to insist on a pneumatic tube system that could transport drugs, documents, and specimens to and from nurses’ stations, labs and pharmacies, which resulted in efficient turnaround times and reduced human error.

In every decision, Occeletta put patients and their families first. She has a unique ability to reach compromises among hospital staff, administrators and county leaders. She would often take an administrator’s hand on a stroll down the hospital corridor while explaining the necessities of having the best technology, a systems change or a problem resolution for patient-centered care. “Occeletta’s Way” was code for “problem solved” among senior administrators. 

Occeletta remains devoted to improving the overall state and health of our community to this day. Occeletta has served on more than a dozen boards and in organizations, often as chair, for more than 50 years. She is most passionate about her tenure as a Parish Nurse at St. Linus Catholic Church, where, since 1996, she’s combined her faith and nursing skills. She has administered more than 21,000 flu, tetanus and pneumonia immunizations, coordinated health fairs and provided education on diabetes, breast health and HIV/AIDS. She takes pride in caring for patients at all stages of life, from birth to bereavement. 

As a member of The Links, she helped establish a mentorship program for mostly African American girls struggling socially and academically, and worked with them regularly from the time they began high school until they graduated. After participating in The Eleanor Project’s Changers panel of women who’ve made a difference in Stockton, Occeletta was selected to speak at St. Mary’s High School’s Empowering Young Women Dinner, where she shared experiences of attending an integrated school for the first time as a high school junior after the passage of Brown vs. Board of Education. She spoke of nursing her sick grandmother as a young child and connected the experience to why she chose nursing. During this event, she inspired and urged young women to find their purpose, defy odds, and push forward. 

Occeletta chairs the selection committee for the Susan B. Anthony Awards, and is an active member of The Links and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. 

Occeletta is selfless and has spent a lifetime helping other realize their dreams, whether serving as adjunct faculty teaching nursing classes at Delta College or by providing leadership opportunities for nurses in her charge at San Joaquin General Hospital. 

A chance encounter in University of the Pacific’s library exemplifies Occeletta Briggs. Occeletta needed to make Xerox copies and the only student willing to help her with the machine was Gwendolyn. While the two talked, Gwendolyn, who was 50 and completing her bachelor’s degree, said she felt as though she was living her life backwards.  “You’re living your life the way it was meant to be lived,” Occeletta said. The two kept in touch and when Occeletta learned Gwendolyn was sleeping on the floor of her sister’s house, she gave her money for a blanket and pillow. After Gwendolyn graduated, Occeletta paid the down payment and the first month’s rent so she could move into her own apartment and then took Gwendolyn shopping and bought her suitable work clothes. “Occeletta told me, anytime you need something let me know, but do one thing for me. Anybody you see in need, pay it forward,” Gwendolyn said. “I’ve been doing that ever since. (Starting the Dome of Hope non-profit). Our relationship is not just because she gives me anything. It’s more than a mentorship. She’s the elder in my world; my support. She’s a hidden gem. No one realizes the impact she made, not only for African Americans, but for all colors.”

Occeletta is compassionate, a dynamic leader, a great woman of faith, a woman of an amazing and indomitable spirit who has dedicated her whole life to others.

Past ATHENA Award recipients are Mary Bava, Dea Berberian, Judith Buethe, Jane Butterfield, Consuelo “Connie” Callahan, Susan Carson, Judith Chambers, Dr. Pamela Eibeck, Bobbie Fasano, Sara Garfield, Joelle Gomez, Phyllis Grupe, Charlynn Harless, Iva Harris, Dr. Kathy Hart, Hedy Holmes, Dr. Hazel Hill, Marian Jacobs, Kathleen Janssen, Ann Johnston, Susan Lenz, Janice L. Marengo, Jeanette Michaels, Karen Munro, Gillian Murphy, Carol J. Ornelas, Connemara Reisinger, Kathryn Rousek Smith, Cyril Seligman, Kristen Spracher-Birtwhistle, and Jeanne Zolezzi.

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