After working at the same place for three decades, the 50-year-old Russell O’Grady, a beloved McDonald’s employee with Down’s Syndrome, has now retired.
“He first came to 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 when he was 18 years old.”
Jobsupport then offered placements to people with moderate intellectual disabilities. News.com.au. reported:
“Gabrielle Bartlett, who works for the organization, said in the intervening 32 years since Mr. O’Grady first took on his trailblazing role, the societal change in attitude has been significant.
“It wasn’t possible for people with a moderate intellectual disability to join the employment system,” she said, speaking to The Hill Shire Times.
“We were pioneers in proving that people in Australia with a moderate disability can value-add to the workforce. Prior to 1986, if you were someone with a moderate disability, you had to stay on the lounge at home. Mr. Grady had paved the way for other people with a disability to enter the workforce.”
He was a hard-working employee with an impeccable work ethic, so he was given a full-time job at the restaurant in Northmead, in west Sydney. He served customers, cleaned, and packed party boxes, in addition to working shifts in the kitchen.
Jobsupport trainer Nikita Vandaru says:
“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.”
Wynn Visser, assistant manager of JobSupport, claims:
“Russell’s impact on people in his community is without doubt exceptional. Everybody knows him and they really love him because he always stops to shake hands and say ‘Hi’ to everyone he knows.”
According to Russell’s supervisor, Courtney Purcell, people from all over were coming to the restaurant just to meet him:
“We’ve got regular customers who come in to see Russell on Thursday and Friday, and the staff looks after him, so we’re going to miss him.”
His brother, Lindsey, said that his work made him very proud:
“He’s kind of blasé about it but loves his work very much. He’s pretty cheeky sometimes. He’s my big brother and he keeps me in line.”
Their father, Geoff O’Grady, agreed that people loved Russell and would come up to him and shake his hand.
“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.”
As soon as he entered the McDonald’s team, Russell showed that he appreciated the opportunity, which was rarely given to people with disabilities at that time, so he became a responsible and valuable employee.
After 32 years with McDonald’s, he decided to retire and spend most of his time at Northmead Bowling Club since he is a passionate tenpin bowler.
Down Syndrome was discovered in the late nineteenth century when it was first mentioned by John Langdon Down, an English physician who accurately published a description of a person with the syndrome.
Every year, about 6,000 babies are born with it in the United States, making it the most common chromosomal condition.
The National Down Syndrome Society explains:
“In every cell in the human body, there is a nucleus, where genetic material is stored in genes. Genes carry the codes responsible for all of our inherited traits and are grouped along rod-like structures called chromosomes. Typically, the nucleus of each cell contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, half of which are inherited from each parent.
Down syndrome occurs when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21. This additional genetic material alters the course of development and causes the characteristics associated with Down syndrome.
A few of the common physical traits of Down syndrome are low muscle tone, small stature, an upward slant to the eyes, and a single deep crease across the center of the palm – although each person with Down syndrome is a unique individual and may possess these characteristics to different degrees, or not at all.”
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