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Freia David, who worked for 32 years at Needham McDonald’s, dies at 55

Freia David worked for 32 years at the Needham McDonald’s. More than 100 people showed up for her retirement celebration in 2016. David L Ryan/Globe Staff/2016/Globe Staff

A woman with Down syndrome who worked for 32 years at a Needham McDonald’s, participated in the Special Olympics, and received praise from Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election has died.

Freia David, 55, died on April 30, according to a notice recently published in the Globe.

“Freia was born to a loving family, having Down Syndrome, but this never slowed her down,” the notice said. “She graduated from Needham High School, participated in Special Olympics, had many friends, and enjoyed music, movies, and Mickey Mouse. For 32 years she worked at McDonald’s of Needham where she served up spectacular French fries, teased her co-workers, and greeted everyone with a smile.”

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The notice said that when David stopped working, her retirement party “was so well publicized that she became a minor celebrity.”

David was the subject of a 2016 profile in the Globe. The Globe reported at the time that more than 100 people had attended her retirement party at the McDonald’s she had worked in since 1984.

For 32 years, five days a week, she spent the lunch rush frying, salting, and boxing fries at the restaurant, always arriving an hour early, sometimes dancing in place before the stainless steel Frymaster. On Saturdays, she returned with her mother to eat lunch and see friends.

In her early 20s, David was working in a sheltered workshop for adults with disabilities run by the Charles River Center, when the Needham nonprofit persuaded McDonald’s and another company to hire a few workers on a trial basis. A counselor recommended David and urged her mother to let her try.

“He said, ‘Anneliese, let her go. Then you can see,’ ” David’s mother, Anneliese David, recalled in 2016. “And he was right. And she loved it.”

At a campaign event in Florida in 2016, Clinton, then the Democratic nominee for president, promised to expand job opportunities for people with disabilities.

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Clinton said she carried around the Globe article about Freia David, telling people at an Orlando family and youth center, “Now, if you want some proof, let me tell you this story. It’s a story of a woman named Freia David. . . . I’ve carried a copy of that article around with me because I loved it so much.”

In the Globe notice, David’s family said the Charles River Center provided her with invaluable assistance during her life.

“At the age of three, she began going to classes at the Charles River Center, and throughout her life this outstanding organization helped her to grow,” the notice said. “For the last fifteen years she was helped, supported, and allowed to blossom as a resident of a group home. To all the members of both these organizations our family gives heartfelt thanks!”


Material from the Associated Press and the Globe archives was used in this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.