Deidre Bright, Angela Hannigan and June Groves have bonded over their years of service at Coles stores around Australia. Picture: Coles
Deidre Bright, Angela Hannigan and June Groves have bonded over their years of service at Coles stores around Australia. Picture: Coles

The stories behind Coles’ longest serving employees

When you combine their years of service, these three friends from around Australia have more than 150 years experience in the one company.

The three Coles team members were reunited with five other employees who have been with the supermarket giant for more than 50 years, to share their insights at its AGM this week.

These are their incredible stories:

ANGELA HANNIGAN, NSW

AT 82-years-old, Angela Hannigan has no plans to retire.

In fact, she plans to work until the day she dies.

The Irish-born mother is Coles' longest serving team member in New South Wales, having served 51-years.

Growing up in an orphanage meant Ms Hannigan had no real family connection when she moved from Ireland to Australia with her son, Derek.

So landing a job at Coles in May 1968 offered her not only financial support but a sense of community.

"A little store called Merrylands West Coles gave me the job because I was on my own when I came out here from Ireland," she said. "My husband met another lady and left me."

Coles 50 plus team members love sharing advice with newbies. Angela Hannigan, 82, Janet Novak, 22, Georgia Cooper, 21, Graeme Beswick, 68, Brenda Palmer, 87, Jesse Lee, 18, and Deidre Bright, 67. Picture: David Caird
Coles 50 plus team members love sharing advice with newbies. Angela Hannigan, 82, Janet Novak, 22, Georgia Cooper, 21, Graeme Beswick, 68, Brenda Palmer, 87, Jesse Lee, 18, and Deidre Bright, 67. Picture: David Caird

"I was put in a home when I was two, a home for children who have no one. I didn't know my mum or dad but just before I came out here [to Australia], I got to know my dad."

After learning her story, Ms Hannigan's employer decided to help her reconnect with her father years later when his health went downhill.

"Coles were wonderful to me. I told them my story and they paid my fare to go back home to see my dad for three weeks before he died," she said.

"I didn't know him before I came out here so that time was everything."

In all her years working from different Coles locations, Ms Hannigan, who is now at Coles Fairfield, has gained a large array of skills but you will never find her behind the checkout.

"I only do the office jobs, like wages, not checkout," she said.

"I'm getting old now, I'm in my 80s. People say, 'are you going to retire Angela?' And I say, 'not yet, I won't give up until I die'. Coles are everything to me."

JUNE GROVES, QLD

June Groves was the first woman in Australia to have worked at Coles for half-a-century and she's well on her way to making it 60 years.

The 74-year-old Gatton resident began her career on February 14, 1966 - the same day pounds, shillings and pence were replaced by Australian dollars and cents.

"That time was a big change for a lot of things," Mrs Groves said.

Originally hired when she was 20-years-old to work on the checkout at a new store in Aspley, Mrs Groves quickly moved into an office role and has remained in it since.

Coles chairman James Graham and CEO Steven Cain with long time employees Angela Hannigan June Groves at the Coles AGM in Melbourne. Picture: Stuart McEvoy/The Australian
Coles chairman James Graham and CEO Steven Cain with long time employees Angela Hannigan June Groves at the Coles AGM in Melbourne. Picture: Stuart McEvoy/The Australian

"When I first started, they hadn't opened the store so I was just filling shelves," she said. "Then I started in the office and I'm now the office in charge in the Gatton store."

While the job has offered her financial security, Mrs Groves said remaining with the company for so long has given her so much more.

"Well, as most of us say, it's like another family because we've spent more time with them than our actual family," she said.

"It's always been for me security and has helped put my children through school. I've had a lot of nieces and nephews work for Coles.

And working past retirement age doesn't go unnoticed.

"That's the question everyone asks me, will I retire? While I'm still enjoying it, I'll keep going," she said.

"I do four days a week now so I have Fridays off. Which means every week I get a long weekend."

DIERDRE BRIGHT, SA

A lot has changed in the past 52 years but for Deirdre Bright one thing has been a constant.

Since 1967, she has been employed by Coles, making the 67-year-old the first South Australian team member to reach 50 years of service.

"There have been massive changes during my time working at Coles, everything was manual and now it's automatic," Mrs Bright said.

"The check-outs didn't have conveyor belts when I started so we had to pull groceries closer to us with a wooden structure and counting stock was written down in little paper booklets."

Mrs Bright started at Coles one month after her 15th birthday.

"I was so nervous at my interview, my mother actually took me. She had to walk me up the stairs and sit with me," She said.

"We had to do little sums to make sure we could work out numbers at the checkout."

The Grotes St Coles employee has since worked at 20 stores across Australia.

"I was fortunate enough to open the first Coles store in SA to have a computer," she said.

"That was very daunting because everything I had to do was with my brain and all manual with my hands and then I had to go and learn to do things with a computer which I'd never even heard of," she said.

Coles Group CEO Steven Cain said: "We are immensely grateful for the support our long standing team members have shown for Coles over so many years.

"Their hard work and dedication is an example to our entire workforce of more than 113,000 team members as we work to ensure future generations of Australians experience Coles as a great place to work and shop."


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