Gladys Burrell, known to Homewood students and staff as Mrs. Gladys, walked through Johns Hopkins' doors 47 years ago. Since then, she has worked as a line server in AMR I at a time when food was sent upstairs by a dumbwaiter. She has worked the grill in Levering Hall, been a cook's assistant, and worked as the first cook in both Wolman Hall and Terrace Court, which is now the Fresh Food Café.
Nearly 14 years ago, she was asked to be a cashier. And although she was hesitant to leave the kitchen, Mrs. Gladys said the change has been a blessing.
"Me and the kids began to bond, and I just loved it," she said.
Next Thursday will be Mrs. Gladys' last day as a member of the dining team. Community Living organized a celebration of her retirement Tuesday and declared it Mrs. Gladys Day at the Fresh Food Café.
The event featured a breakfast and lunch menu based on Mrs. Gladys past as a cook and featuring some of her personal favorites. Scrambled eggs, ham steak, tater tots, and cheese grits were items on the breakfast menu; southern fried chicken, green beans, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens were served at lunchtime.
The right side of the dining hall was reserved for students to eat and socialize, leave notes, and take photo booth pictures with Mrs. Gladys. There were plenty of hugs, "thanks yous," and "we'll miss yous" directed toward a woman who always has a smile on her face.
"I remember her always being happy whenever people walk into the FFC, and being very warm and welcoming," said Jaylyn Gillis, a first-year psychology major.
Mrs. Gladys' tenure has earned her ample experience, respect, and love. She said many student students who have now graduated still text and call.
Dannielle Brown, who attended Johns Hopkins as an undergrad and is now a JHU graduate student, returned to the café to celebrate Mrs. Gladys retirement.
"On your worst day, you could come in, see Mrs. Gladys, and she puts a smile on your face," Brown said. "I think her spirit is just so incredible that even first-years, this year, are here to celebrate her. Her presence is so special."
Brown was not the only alum to visit Mrs. Gladys on her day. Patrick Hampton, a former JHU student, and his sister Bridget Hampton, who will graduate this month, brought Mrs. Gladys a handwritten thank you note and reflected on her impact on four generations of the Hampton siblings.
"All [three] of my siblings and I attended Hopkins, so we all formed special relationships with Mrs. Gladys," Bridget said. "She'd always be helping me after late-night field hockey practices, letting me come in 10 minutes before close to grab food. She affected all of us."
Added Patrick: "We love Mrs. Gladys, and we're going to miss her."
Jeffery Vigilante—marketing director for Bon Appétit, which manages campus dining at Homewood—presented Mrs. Gladys with a proclamation from the City of Baltimore that was signed by the mayor.
Mrs. Gladys said she was overwhelmed by the surprise, grateful, adding that she would have been happy if nothing had happened at all.
In fact, happiness is what Mrs. Gladys has radiated for the last 47 years. She said she has tried to teach students to persevere and do what makes them happy.
"I think when you know God … regardless of what you go through, you can have a smile on your face," she said. "My home stuff, I leave it at home. My work stuff ... I don't take it home. You have to know how to separate, how to make your life easy. I'm all about being happy."
Mrs. Gladys' hard work and kind-heartedness have surely not gone unnoticed at Johns Hopkins University.
"Her compassion for the students and commitment to the job every day is pure and steadfast. Everyone who has interacted with Mrs. Gladys or has been greeted by her warm smile and kind words can feel the love she has for you," Vigilante said. "Hopkins Dining will feel her loss at the end of the semester, and we wish her the very best as she starts her new path into retirement."