1 in every 700 babies born around the world, suffer from Down Syndrome. Being born different is not a choice these innocent human beings make but some work so hard to prove that they are no different than the rest of us. Russell O’ Grady is no different than any of us. He was born with Down Syndrome, a genetic disorder which affects the intellectual and overall development of an individual. Nevertheless, he managed to turn his life around and find a job he truly enjoyed. The Australian started working at Northmead McDonald’s in Sydney in 1986 and served smiles for an amazing 32 years. Here’s his amazing story.
Russell O’Grady first joined the restaurant in 1984, on a work experience placement organized by Jobsupport, an Australian government initiative that helps people with intellectual disabilities find paid employment.
Life was a lot different back when Russell decided to start working. Hardly anyone with disabilities was employed due to the stigma surrounding special needs. Russell wanted to change how things were and also wanted to show the world his talents. So, in 1984, at the age of 18, Russell became an employee at a Northmead McDonald’s in Sydney.
Many parents of children with Down Syndrome tend to keep them close to home but Russell wanted a life like everyone else. To help Russell live an independent life, Jobsupport, an Australian government initiative, helped him find the full time position.
“(Our mission is) To place, train and maintain as many people with a significant intellectual disability as possible into quality jobs in the regular workforce that meet both their employment needs and the needs of the employer… Jobsupport works with each employer and the person with the intellectual disability to customize a job that meets a genuine need for the employer and the person with an intellectual disability,” reads their website.
For the next 32 years, the loyal employee not only carried out his responsibilities, including packing party boxes, cleaning and serving customers, but he also spread happiness among the customers.
“Without the initiative, lots of people like Russell wouldn’t have the jobs they do today and they wouldn’t have the reward that it gives them, which is pride, a boost of their self-esteem, and feeling of importance and belonging in society,” said Russell’s father, thanking McDonald’s and Job Support.
According to The Telegraph, Russell made such an impact on the customers that many people came to the restaurant to just meet and talk to him. He is often described as the ‘best-known person in Northmead’ by its residents. His friendly nature and smile was loved by so many, that the residents of Northmead turned the employee into a celebrity within a few years. As he cleaned and swept through the restaurant, he was courteous and always had a smile on his face.
In 2016, all the employees of McDonald’s threw a party on the occasion of Russell completing 30 years of employment.
In an interview with The Daily Mail, Russell’s father explained that he was proud of what his son had achieved, adding that his career has given him a different outlook on life. “He’s very affectionate, dearly loved and appreciated, to such an extent that we just don’t believe it. ‘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’’,’ he said.
The hardworking employee completed an impressive 32 years after first putting on the chain’s uniform. He retired in 2018 – leaving behind many sad customers.
The decision to retire was painful to both Russell and the residents of Northmead. Sadly, Russell had to choose to retire to focus on his health. However, he matched the 32 years of service achieved by another fellow McDonald’s employee with Down’s syndrome, Freia David. Freia, who also has Down Syndrome, began working at the fast-food restaurant in Massachusetts in 1984. Russell loves tenpin bowling and hopes to spend some of his free time at Northmead Bowling Club, the men’s shed at Richmond. Happy retirement, superhero!