For 32 years, he spread smiles and joy to customers at a McDonald's outlet and his retirement at the age of 50 marked the end of an era for his community.
Among society's many misconceptions about people born with Down Syndrome, the most prominent one is the belief that such individuals are unable to lead a fulfilling independent life. Thankfully, things are a lot better today with many setting the record straight on just how much they can achieve on their own. As with everything that challenges widespread beliefs, this wouldn't have been possible without the pioneers who broke through the glass ceiling at a time when everyone told them it wasn't possible. Russell O' Grady is one such pioneer who, with his determination to strike out on his own, became an inspiration to all.
Thirty year milestone for McDonalds employee with down syndrome https://t.co/A6OuMzJeUv pic.twitter.com/bLmeteOwXE— The Daily Telegraph (@dailytelegraph) October 25, 2016
For 32 years, Russell spread smiles and joy to customers at a McDonald's outlet in Sydney, Australia. Born with Down Syndrome, he first donned the chain's uniform in 1986 as a zealous 18-year-old looking to rack up work experience. According to a report by the Independent, Russell came across the opportunity through Jobsupport — an Australian government initiative to help those with intellectual difficulties find paid jobs. His employers at the restaurant at Northmead, Greater Western Sydney, were so impressed by his commitment and work ethic that they soon offered him a permanent role at the establishment.
This picture was snapped when Russell O'Grady started working for McDonald's in 1986, where he worked for 30 years and retired in 2016.@McDonalds@McDonaldsQatar#DefinitelyAble #Qatar pic.twitter.com/dEBXTJNpRg— Accessible Qatar / Definitely Able (@DefinitelyAble) March 25, 2018
Russell went on to spend a little over three decades at the restaurant, packing party boxes, cleaning, and serving customers, becoming one of the most iconic people at the outlet next to Ronald McDonald. Such was his presence the establishment that many would frequent the branch just to meet him. According to Daily Mail, he's even been dubbed the "best-known person in Northmead." Last December marked the end of an era as Russell hung up his uniform and officially retired from his post.
ICYMI: McDonald's employee with Down's Syndrome celebrated 30 years on the job in October. Congratulations, Russell! https://t.co/Z4AUhQlr2s pic.twitter.com/ATbfb7R4aV— Mosaic in Central Iowa (@mosaic_dsm) March 10, 2017
"We've got regular customers who come in to see Russell on Thursday and Friday, and the staff look after him, so we're going to miss him," said McDonald's supervisor Courtney Purcell. In an email to CTV News, the assistant manager of JobSupport, Wynn Visser said that Russell's impact on his community has been exceptional. "Everybody knows him and they really love him because he always stops to shake hands and say 'Hi' to everyone he knows. He has only told me he will miss seeing his friends at work (who are mainly young girls who make a fuss of him), his boss and all the people who call in to see him," she said.
McDonald's throws party for employee with Down's syndrome on 30th work anniversary🎈 https://t.co/PidZkpzUEy pic.twitter.com/jeZN9FSmtg— HuffPost UK Life (@HuffPostUKLife) October 28, 2016
Visser revealed that the 50-year-old's decision to retire was mainly due to concerns regarding health concerns that come with his age. "As his family, our objective is to find him new activities to keep him both healthy and active in his community," she said. Russell plans to spend his retirement socializing with friends at the gym, having dog therapy, and indulging in his favorite hobby of ten-pin bowling at the Northmead Bowling Club. "Russell’s tenure is truly remarkable," Visser added.
Retiring McDonald's employee, 50, blazed a path for others with Down syndrome https://t.co/AQHqVZZLaa pic.twitter.com/y8dHi3z8W8— CTV News (@CTVNews) December 20, 2018
Russell's brother Lindsey said that their family is incredibly proud of him for his dedication to work. "He's kind of blase about it but loves his work very much. He's pretty cheeky sometimes. He's my big brother and he keeps me in line," he said. The iconic McDonald's employee's father Geoff O'Grady previously revealed that his son would often get stopped for handshakes by people on the street. "He's very affectionate, dearly loved and appreciated, to such an extent that we just don't believe it," he said. Mr. O'Grady also stated that having a job changed Russell's outlook on life. "Somebody said to him 'are you handicapped?' and his answer was 'I used to be when I went to school, but now I work at McDonald's.'"
Russell O'Grady was just 18 when he worked his first shift for the fast food chain in 1986 - more than three decades on, he's retiring https://t.co/ZMNub2wIHH #Ablemag #DownsSyndrome #McDonalds #Accesswork #Inclusivework #BetheDifference pic.twitter.com/OHifGA5lOB— Able Magazine (@ablemag) December 30, 2018