OLD TOWN, Maine — It’s not easy to surprise Lee Jackson.
The local McDonald’s employee, who also is a University of Maine senior and Old Town school board member, arrived at work early Monday only to find several dignitaries and relatives waiting at the restaurant to take part in a ceremony in which he would be named a national Crew Person of the Year.
“You were early. That doesn’t surprise me,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins told Jackson, as he stood along with the mayor, local lawmakers, his grandparents, company representatives and others who gathered for the award presentation held in the McDonald’s on Stillwater Avenue.
“What a wonderful and well-deserved honor,” Collins said. “Anyone who can balance three jobs, take care of constituents and go to school [deserves to be honored]. How wonderful for all of New England.”
Jackson has worked at McDonald’s for nearly three years and has been working as an intern for Collins, based in her Bangor office, for the last five months. He represented her and read her speech at Bangor’s Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day in December 2015.
Collins went on to say Jackson is a perfectionist when it comes to his work and already is “an extraordinary leader.”
“I don’t know how you do it. Your schedule is as bad as mine,” Collins joked.
Jackson, 21, is a fourth-year political science student at the University of Maine who also is pursuing a minor in Maine studies. He was one of 25 McDonald’s workers in the nation to receive the award. Bob Hogan, who co-owns the local McDonald’s, told the group that Jackson was already an employee when he bought the restaurant two years ago and he knew after meeting him that he was an “impressive young man.”
After thanking Collins, Jackson took her over to meet grandparents Sharon and Mike Steele, who helped his mother raise him and his sisters. His mother could not attend Monday because she was cheering on his sister at a state swim meet, Mike Steele said.
“We’re all very proud of him,” his grandfather said.
Jackson said he was “raised by a single mom and my grandparents and they taught us — me and my sisters — the meaning of hard work.” He added that he also is “really fortunate” to have McDonald’s in his life and to live in a community such as Old Town.
Jackson graduated from Old Town High School in 2012, and the following year, when he was only 19, he ran for and won one of two open seats on the nine-member Regional School Unit 34 board.
He volunteers at the city’s annual Riverfest and the Old Town Y, Camp Jordan, regional track and field events. He also is a UMaine mentor.
Since 2010, Jackson has been on the River Coalition-Healthy Maine Partnership’s board of directors, and in January 2015, he was elected chairman of the Penobscot County Republican Committee.
He also has been part of the discussions about how to redesign downtown Old Town that now has a vacant six-acre lot where the former Old Town Canoe factory once stood. He has lobbied for bills in Augusta, including one encouraging minors to seek help for alcohol poisoning.
McDonald’s presents 25 annual awards to crewmembers “who make outstanding contributions in their restaurants and deliver the brand promise to customers each and every day,” a press release about the accolade states.
Jackson was up against 20,000 other employees in the company’s Boston region and was given two $500 awards and a plaque.
“The money is all going toward tuition,” Jackson said.