By Joel Hall
Nell Pierce-Boykin, of Stockbridge, is 72 years old and definitely a people person.
For the last 14 years, she has driven a green, 1994 Buick to the McDonald's on Mt. Zion Parkway in Morrow at 4:30 a.m., to manage the morning shift.
Over the years, she has gained a loyal following of satisfied customers, turned friends, turned fans, who come from miles around for more than just the biscuits and coffee.
"Really, the best time is the morning, because you just get to know people," said Pierce-Boykin. "As the evening goes along, people just come in and out.
"We pay attention, we know what they are going to order in the morning and it makes a difference," she said. "Knowing if they want well-done biscuits, knowing the number of butters or the number of jellies they want, people appreciate little thoughtful things like that."
Pierce-Boykin started her career at McDonald's in 1970 in Forest Park, and since 1984, has managed five different stores in the Southern Crescent. This past Wednesday, thanks to an enormous stroke of luck, she was able to retire after 39 years.
On Dec. 14, her son, Dwayne Pierce, of Senoia, Ga., won $750,000 in a Georgia State Lottery scratch-off game. With the money from his winnings, he replaced her '94 Buick with a new Toyota Camry, and paid off the mortgage on her house.
"I have a 1,000 things I want to do now," Pierce-Boykin said.
Ray Justice, 75, franchise owner of the Mt. Zion Parkway McDonald's, as well as the Hudson Bridge Road location, said Pierce-Boykin has been with him for the majority of his 50 years working for McDonald's. He said she has made a difference at every store in which she has worked.
"In the fast food business, which has a turnover rate of 300 percent, to have someone stay for 39 years kind of breaks all those records," he said. "She had a true following. When people found out that she was at different stores, they would make a point to go back."
Justice said Pierce-Boykin's friendliness and attention to detail rubbed off on all of her employees. "You can get more with sugar than with vinegar with people," he said. "That's what she has applied her whole career ... let's treat people like human beings and we'll get the results we want, and that applied to the customers, too."
Pierce-Boykin's style of management has also rubbed off on many young people in the Southern Crescent, who have left McDonald's to go on to notable careers. Jeff Turner, chief of the Clayton County Police Department, worked for her at the age of 16, at the McDonald's on Jonesboro Road, near Southlake Mall in Morrow.
"I've only had two jobs in my life, McDonald's and the police department," said Turner. "That was the first job I ever got, and Nell was the manager and a sweet lady. She was fun to work for, but no-nonsense.
"The one thing I remember is that with her employees, when she dealt with us, she was always fair," he said. "We, as people, draw our management techniques from our life experiences. It might be a stretch going from flipping burgers to protecting the people of Clayton County, but the principals are the same when it comes to management."
Pierce-Boykin said the McDonald's franchise has been good to her as well. In 2001, she married her second husband, Joe Boykin, who was, at the time, an employee of the Clayton County Sheriff's Department, and a regular customer at the Mt. Zion Parkway location.
Her daughter, Donna Langston, of Tampa, Fla., met her husband, Miles Langston, an Air Force air traffic controller, while working at the Forest Parkway and Jonesboro Road McDonald's in Forest Park.
"We're all McDonald's people," she said. "Mr. Justice always says we have ketchup in our blood."
Pierce-Boykin said her immediate plans are to stay retired, travel more, and make more trips to Tampa, Fla., and Biloxi, Miss. She hopes other restaurants in the area will maintain the philosophy she has tried to spread for the last 39 years.
"There were times when I did have problems at home, but leave your problems at home," she said. "The customer doesn't have to bear the weight of it. If you can stay positive, the customer will feel it."