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School janitor proves first impressions don't tell the whole story

CBS News logo CBS News 4/21/2018 Steve Hartman
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- It's easy to make assumptions. But students at Coulter Grove Intermediate School near Knoxville, Tennessee, say be wary of first impressions.

"You never know what people have done," said student Alexis Nunley. "I was surprised,"said another student.

Alexis was talking about Maury Forrester, 77, who was part of the team that helped put man on the moon. During the Saturn and Apollo programs, he worked for a subcontractor that designed crucial launch components.

"I look at it now, I'm amazed that it happened," Maury said. "It was so complex and so involved, there were so many people."

His certificates and awards could fill a corner office. Yet now, his office is in the broom closet -- a highly-trained electromechanical designer, on the business end of a mop.

a man wearing glasses: Maury Forrester © Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. Maury Forrester

In 2014, Maury suffered a stroke, or something like it, since doctors aren't quite sure. But the result was clear: a major loss of cognitive function. Maury says it was humbling and humiliating, but he knew if he wanted to keep on living he had to keep on working. He originally took his job solely for the exercise, but over the last few months he has become an integral part of this school community.

"They're happy to see me and I'm happy to see them," Maury said. "I've gotten to care very much for them."

a group of people standing in a room: Maury Forrester at school © Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. Maury Forrester at school

The students clearly feel the same. In fact, Maury says they even say, "I love you."

"Just hearing that makes all the difference to me," Maury said.

I asked Maury: what if by some miracle he could go back to his old job? There was no hesitation.

"I can't say that I would give this up," he replied.

Some people never figure out the key to a successful career. But Maury shows: it's not rocket science.

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