Since 1987, Russell O’Grady has been diligently walking to work at McDonald's, three days a week to greet customers and keep the store looking its best.
For Mr O'Grady, who has Down syndrome, his 30-year career with McDonald’s has allowed him to become much-loved in his Sydney community., whether he’s working under the golden arches, dropping in for a beer at the bowling club or going about his business in town.
According to his family and co-workers, his lifetime of work has been as much a boon to Russell, 48, as it has been to the community that has fallen in love with him.
“Somebody said to him "are you handicapped?" and his answer was "I used to be when I went to school, but now I go to work,” his father Geoff said ten years ago when Russell was celebrating two decades at work.
He said going to work had proved to his son that he was a normal member of society.
Russell began his long run with Maccas as a work experience student, but soon became a permanent member of the team after his managers realised what a committed worker he was.
Jobsupport, an organisation which helps people with intellectual disabilities, helped Russell find the job three decades ago. He was one of the first 100 people to be placed in ordinary employment anywhere in Australia.
Today, there are thousands in similar positions, but in 1987 Russell was a rarity, as was McDonald’s in offering him secure work, his father Geoff told the Daily Mail.
In years past, people like Russell were often hidden away in sheltered workshops or work programs far removed from the lives most working Australians know.
Mr O’Grady said McDonald’s Northmead had welcome his son with open arms and had had a transformative effect on his life. In 1987 it was rare to find a business prepared to take a chance on someone like Russell.
Now it seems hard to imagine why, Russell, McDonalds, Jobsupport and the people of Northmead all appear better off for Russell’s hard work.
Jobsupport assistant manager Kate O'Grady said Russell’s tenure at McDonalds had now affected multiple generations of workers in the store.
“In fact there's a man who worked with Russell when he was a teenager and now his children work with him,” she said.
“He's an incredibly social person and can hardly walk down the street without people stopping to chat with him or buy him a beer at the club.”