Catherine Wilson fries up one more basket
of potatoes. Photo by Kris Scheuer/Town Crier.
By Kris Scheuer
(Originally published March 8/05 for Town Crier.)
Say goodbye to the Fry Lady — the 79-year-old woman is retiring after 25 years of serving up fries to hungry customers at a local McDonald’s.
Catherine Wilson, known affectionately as the Fry Lady and Granny by customers and colleagues alike, started her first shift at the McDonald’s at Bayview and Eglinton Aves. in January of 1979 at $3 an hour. Now she is packing it in.
Over the years, she has cooked and packaged too many French fries to count, but here’s a rough estimate. She served up at least 1,709,400 packages of fries in 25 years — and that’s just during lunch hour.
Ironically, Wilson doesn’t even like fries. This is not a slight against McDonald’s fries, mind you. “I have never eaten the French fries,” she said. “I was just never into French fries my whole life.”
Before the 25-year McDonald’s gig, Wilson had not worked. At the time she was 54 and looking for something to do with her time. Her three children, Margaret, Patricia (Pat) and Tom, were all grown when Wilson was widowed for the second time, and found herself looking for something to do during the day.
Then she saw an employment advertisement for the new McDonald’s at Bayview and Eglinton Aves., which was within walking distance from her house.
“I saw the store being built,” she said.
Working at this location allowed Wilson to see generations of kids grow up. This McDonald’s is not only at a busy intersection, but also next door to Leaside High School, across the street from Sunnybrook Plaza and within walking distance of several condos.
Wilson always took July and August off, so she could spend time with her granddaughter Jennifer, who is now in her thirties and has a daughter of her own. She also wanted to give up her summer shifts so students could get employment during those months. The down side is that although she worked full-time five days a week for many years, because she took the summers off, she was considered permanent part-time. This means she won’t receive a company pension when she retires, explained her daughter Pat.
Wilson has saved everything associated with her years at McDonald’s, including her first pay stub from Jan. 14, 1979 for $36 for 12 hours of work. Over the years she has collected enough McDonald’s pins to cover three aprons and purchased over 500 toys that McDonald’s has given out with its promotions.
There have been many opportunities for Wilson to retire before now, but she was never ready. She could have retired when she turned 65, when she had knee surgery three years ago and last year there was talk of tearing down this McDonald’s to build condos, but that has been put on hold for now. And then last year, Wilson was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which is in the mild to moderate stages now, said Pat.
Even then “McDonald’s never asked her to leave. The family never asked her to leave (her job). She made the decision on her own,” said Pat. “McDonald’s has been wonderful to allow her to stay.”
“I had my concerns with her Alzheimer’s, but I couldn’t convince her to leave (work). She wanted to stay active. I have her involved in the adult daycare program at the Anne Johnston Health Station.”
Wilson lives with Pat and her common-law husband of 38 years. The plan is for the three of them to move to Orillia this summer.
Wilson has nine grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
She is celebrating her 80th birthday on Feb. 7 — where else but at McDonald’s. But this time someone else is making the fries.