A McDonald's employee with Down syndrome retires after serving smiles for more than 30 years

by Shirley Marie Bradby

February 08, 2019

A McDonald's employee with Down syndrome retires after serving smiles for more than 30 years

Finding a job these days is not easy; and succeeding in remaining there for years, it is increasingly difficult.

And, what about those who arrive at retirement after having spent all their working life at the same company? We would certainly consider such a person to be very lucky. 

And, without a shadow of a doubt, Russell O'Grady was indeed, lucky. Born with Down's Syndrome, he has managed to retire at the age of fifty after spending more than thirty years working for McDonald's.

But perhaps, the one who gained the most from this collaboration was the company itself, because they managed to have a loyal and hardworking employee who always had a smile for everyone.


Russell O'Grady is like one of those 6,000 children born every year with Down's syndrome in the United States.

This is a genetic condition that manifests some unmistakable physical characteristics, but certainly not its possible good fortune - a personal story that Russell created with sweat and determination, reaching a happy result.

It was in 1984 that an eighteen-year-old Russell first entered a McDonald's restaurant in Northmead, west of Sydney (Australia), to begin a job arranged by Jobsupport, a work placement program.

This program was an initiative by the Australian government created to help people with intellectual disabilities to find paid work. In fact, at that time, it was particularly difficult for people with disabilities to find similar opportunities.


This opportunity was an experience that Russell lived positively by giving the maximum of himself, in terms of commitment, but also in spirit. And this is why at the end of his internship, the company decided to hire him full time.

This was the beginning of his work experience which lasted for 32 years, during which Russell tried his hand at everything: from cleaning to customer service, from packaging party boxes to working in the kitchen, becoming a model employee - and not only.

His supervisor Courtney Purcell said that Russell had become a sort of icon for customers, who also came from afar to get to know him, and afterward becoming attached.

"We have regular customers who come to see Russell on Thursday and Friday, and the staff takes care of him, so we will miss him," Purcell added. In fact, Russell has always proved to be a responsible, highly-valued, and very kind employee.

This esteemed appreciation - has been expressed by customers and all his colleagues - has made Russell's family proud, and his father Geoff also points out that "Russell is very loving, and he is beloved and appreciated so much that we cannot believe it!". Also his brother Lindsey also stated that Russell "loves his job a lot, and sometimes he's cheeky! He's my big brother - and keeps me in line."

The fact of having a stable job and feeling appreciated for his work, had a very strong and positive impact on Russell's life. In fact, this has caused Russell to have a different and better perspective regarding his life. His father says: "Once someone asked Russell if he was handicapped, and he replied: 'I was when I went to school, but now I work at McDonald's'."


Despite all the appreciation and his personal satisfaction with his job, after 32 years Russell felt it was time to stop working and retire. According to what he has said, he is an avid tenpin bowler, and will probably spend most of his retirement time at the Northmead Bowling Club - where we are sure that he will soon earn the esteem of new admirers! ;)