Fast food restaurants are notorious for paying low wages and having a high turnover rate, but those statistics don’t faze loyal employees like Russell O’Grady.
O’Grady began working at McDonald’s in Northmead, a suburb of Sydney, Australia, in 1986. Like many newcomers, he started as the low man on the totem pole, but with hard work and a friendly attitude, he slowly climbed the ladder at his McDonald’s restaurant. In fact, over the past 30 years he’s become a fixture at that specific McDonald’s location.
While customers, his employer, and fellow employees now love him and the work that he does, it wasn’t always easy for O’Grady. When Russell was born, doctors took him away from his parents. They suspected he had Down syndrome, said Russell’s father, Geoff O’Grady.
“We decided we’d take him home and love him,” he said.
Geoff shared the heartbreaking conversation doctors had with the new parents on Australia’s “The Morning Show.” Doctors offered the O’Gradys the option to leave their son at the hospital. In the late 1960s very little was known about Down syndrome, so it was not uncommon for children exhibiting symptoms of Down syndrome or other disabilities to be institutionalized. But conditions were reportedly barbaric, and the O’Gradys simply couldn’t hand over their son.
Like most parents, the O’Gradys were still worried about Russell’s future.
Would he succeed? Would he be able to make friends? Was he capable of being independent?
All of those thoughts were put to rest when Russell started working at McDonald’s. Through Jobsupport, an Australian government initiative aimed at helping people with “significant intellectual disability” secure “quality jobs,” Russell obtained a work experience placement at a local McDonald’s. It wasn’t long after his first day at the chain that he was promoted to a full time position.
His new job gave him the responsibility of not only cleaning the store and maintaining the upkeep of things like the condiment bar, but also interacting with the customers.
“We have people who come and ask for him specifically, and from time to time if he’s not on they actually won’t come in to visit us because they’re keen to see him,” Kathryn Allen, HR Business Partner for McDonald’s Australia, says of Russell’s popularity at the Northmead location.
In October 2016, Russell celebrated 30 years at McDonald’s.
According to the Daily Telegraph, Russell plans to continue working until he turns 50 in about two years. At that time he will have worked at the Golden Arches for 32 years, one year short of another man with Down syndrome who worked at a McDonald’s in the U.S. for 33 years.
Geoff is grateful for this opportunity from Jobsupport and McDonald’s for his son. He says it has changed the way Russell looks at his life.
“Somebody said to him, ‘Russell, are you handicapped?’ He said, ‘I used to be, when I was in school, but now I got to work.'”