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Iconic McDonald’s Employee With Down Syndrome Retires After Serving ‘Cheery Grins’ For 32 Years

Russell O' Grady is a trailblazer who started working there at the age of 18 and retired when he turned 50. It was unprecedented for him to enter the workforce at the time he did - the '80s.

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Down syndrome is a genetic disorder that is a result of a person born with an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21. This extra genetic material causes the developmental changes and physical features of Down syndrome, as stated by the Mayo Clinic. As children, they may experience mild to moderate cognitive impairment but the degree varies from person to person. Due to the risk factors that come with Down Syndrome, parents may be hesitant to let their kids with the condition out of their sight. However, times are changing and Russell O’ Grady is a trailblazer, setting an example and inspiring people with Down syndrome.

A pioneering worker who helped paved the way for other people living with intellectual disabilities retired today from his much-loved job at @McDonalds. Russell O’Grady has Down Syndrome but that didn’t stop him taking up work when doing so seemed almost unthinkable. #7News pic.twitter.com/dKieRu6bLy— 7NEWS Sydney (@7NewsSydney) December 21, 2018

O’Grady was born with Down Syndrome and as an 18-year-old, he was employed at McDonald’s. He quickly went on to become a popular employee at the Northmead branch of the fast-food chain in Sydney, Australia. He landed this job thanks to the non-profit employment service, JobSupport that provides job opportunities for those with a significant intellectual disability. O’Grady has worked at the branch for over three decades until he finally decided to retire and hang up his apron at the age of 50. Over the years, he became an icon at the branch with his signature “cheery grin” that delighted the customers, reported CTV News.

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

He worked as a part-time staff member, three days a week. His job included cleaning the dining area, clearing trays, greeting customers, and even helped out at the drive-through. He later went on to take on more roles and even tried his hand in the kitchen. As a hard worker, he found a permanent and secure job with McDonald’s. What he did was unprecedented since not many with Down syndrome ventured into the workforce in the 80s. Not only did O’Grady take a brave step into the world, but he also excelled in what he did. After 32 years of keeping himself busy, he finally decided to retire.

He was a pioneer for others. Happy retirement Russell. You helped pave the way for us to be accepting of all people.
The McDonald’s icon, Russell O’Grady, is retiring after 32 years working for McDonald’s. pic.twitter.com/40f3DLfNam— Oregon Right to Life (@OR_RTL) December 19, 2018

“He’s very affectionate, dearly loved and appreciated, to such an extent that we just don’t believe it,” Geoff O’Grady, his father, told the Daily Mail. “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, adding that his son’s job and independence gave a new perspective to life for him. O’Grady’s brother Lindsey said that the dedication with which he worked made the family proud. “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.

This beloved McDonald’s employee is retiring after 32 years at the restaurant, where he paved the way for others with Down syndrome pic.twitter.com/YhYldIqKQi— NowThis (@nowthisnews) December 23, 2018

“Russell’s impact on people in his community is, without doubt, exceptional,” Wynn Visser, assistant manager of JobSupport said. “Everybody knows him and they really love him because he always stops to shake hands and say ‘Hi’ to everyone he knows.” He is one of the longest-serving participants of Jobsupport’s program, reported The Daily Telegraph. Nikita Vandaru, a trainer at JobSupport said, “It really helps him, he gets a lot of social interaction and makes him feel like part of the community. When I watch him work, every second customer will stop and talk to him. He’s got a huge smile on his face every time they come.”

After his retirement, O’Grady, as an avid tenpin bowler, would be spending lots of his time at Northmead Bowling Club, the men’s shed at Richmond. 

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