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3 Famous Janitors

June 26, 2024

Ordinary employees get little notoriety in a world of movie stars, social media influencers, politicians, sports icons, and tech tycoons. Perhaps the least known employees, those often thought near the bottom of the professional ladder, are janitors. However, while cleaning may be an entry-level form of employment, the men and women who work those jobs are anything but ordinary. It may surprise you just how famous some janitors have become.

Here are 3 former janitors who surprised the world with their talent, skill, character, and work ethic.

Jim Carrey

Carrey is known for his star roles in comedies like Dumb and Dumber, Liar, Liar, and The Truman Show. Growing up in Canada, the Carrey family fell upon hard times during Jim’s teenage years. They lived out of their Volkswagen van and sometimes slept in tents in nearby parks. Once their father found a job at a local factory, the Carrey brothers started working as janitors in the factory to help support the family. At the age of fifteen, Jim dropped out of high school and was working as a full-time custodian on third shift. He describes this as a difficult time filled with anger and frustration but also an experience that helped shape the man he is today.

Booker T. Washington

The first black man invited to the White House to dine with the president was Booker T. Washington. Born in 1856, Booker and his family were freed from slavery with the end of the Civil War. His family settled in West Virginia, and at the age of 9, Booker was working long days in the salt mines with his father. He would rise before dawn, head to work, and then attempt to make to school by 9AM. After school was out, he would return to the mines to work a few more hours. In his later teen years, Booker would be accepted into the Hampton Institute, where he worked as a janitor to pay for his schooling. His days started at 4 AM and ended late after his night classes. After working his way through school, he went on to build the famous Tuskegee Institute, where he educated thousands of African Americans in the post-Civil War era.

James Croll

Born in Scotland in 1821, James would become a respected scientist. One author said Croll was “the self-educated son of a crofter-stonemason, whose life was characterized by a dizzying range of occupations and homes, poor health and financial concerns, and yet he became a pioneer of orbital dynamics and ice age climate change with an impressive record of publication.” With a love of learning at a young age, but never an opportunity to formally study, Croll became a janitor at the Anderson University Library, where he devoured scientific books for seven years. The period of cleaning and reading was the onramp to his professional scientific career.

The next time you see a janitor working his way through your building, cleaning room after room, remember that he might not be “just a janitor.” In fact, they rarely are.