John Paul Gaddy was a legendary pizza lover. In these parts, he rarely met his match.
The Domino’s Pizza at the corner of Forsyth and Tucker roads once started keeping track of the volume of pizzas he ordered.
He never had to give his name. They recognized his face when he stepped through the door. They knew the sound of his voice over the telephone.
There was hardly a need to order, either. John Paul’s personal menu consisted of three toppings: pepperoni, ground beef and green peppers. Variety was not his spice of life.
John Paul used to talk about having a pizza party at his funeral. At first, his manner was light-hearted. He did not want to sound morbid. Then, when the final stages of pancreatic cancer darkened the room, it was among his final requests.
He wanted hot slices of enriched flour, tomato sauce and melted mozzarella served to everyone who knew and loved him. It would be a meaningful way to celebrate his life rather than mourning his death.
The popular coach, teacher and administrator at Stratford Academy lost his battle with cancer on Saturday. He was 47.
A memorial service will be held Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the gym where he was once head coach of the boys and girls basketball teams.
Pizza will be served following the eulogy. It was John Paul’s wish. It will be supper time.
His pizza tradition goes back to his childhood in Fort Worth, Texas, where his father was a minister. On Sunday nights, John Paul and his parents, Welton and Judy Gaddy, and younger brother James would stop for pizza on their way home from church.
His family moved to Macon in 1984, where his father was a senior minister at Mercer University and later served as pastor at Highland Hills Baptist Church. As a young man, John Paul’s love of pizza reached extra-large portions after he returned to coach and teach at his alma mater.
He was a bachelor, not to mention a creature of habit and master of convenience. He wasn’t especially fond of cooking, and the Domino’s on Forsyth Road was equidistant (3 miles each way) between Stratford and his home at Willow Creek Condominiums on Wimbish Road.
“He was at school when the sun came up in the morning, and he got home late every night after practice, so he would order a pizza,” James said. “He would get pepperoni or ground beef and green peppers. Sometimes, he would get crazy and order all three. You could always go over and find four or five empty pizza boxes in his kitchen.”
Not only did John Paul consider pizza one of the five essential food groups, but he also pledged his allegiance to Domino’s.
Once, in the middle of the 2001-02 basketball season, John Paul arrived home tired and hungry. Domino’s was on his speed dial.
“Mr. Gaddy,” answered the Domino’s employee. “We’ve been doing a little research on you. Since we put in our computer system in 1996, you have ordered 833 pizzas.”
Students would often give him pizza coupons for Christmas. Players on the basketball teams insisted on a traditional pizza lunch before their Friday night games. The 1999-2000 yearbook was dedicated to John Paul, along with a two-page tribute that noted his “mass consumption of pizza.”
Folks used to tease his wife, Helen, that she met John Paul in the carpool lane at Stratford. She was a widow raising three daughters.
“He called one night, but he didn’t ask me out,” she said. “He just said if I would ever like to have dinner or go to a movie to let him know. He left it open-ended.”
They fell in love and began dating 11 years ago. She quickly found out about his unbridled passion for pizza. It was his idea of a balanced meal.
“I tried to introduce him to a few vegetables,” she said, laughing.
She said John Paul’s idea of going on a diet was ordering a thin crust.
Once, when he was visiting at her house, the doorbell rang. It was the Domino’s delivery guy, who seemed most surprised to see him.
“Mr. Gaddy,” he said. “What are you doing here?”
Helen and John Paul had been together eight years when he was diagnosed with cancer in August 2011. While recovering from surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, they began making plans to get married in September. John Paul’s father officiated the wedding at Vineville Methodist. It was a small ceremony in front of family and friends.
“He was a sweet, sweet man, always doing the right thing,” Helen said. “I was very blessed to have him in my life.”
No one is sure how many pizza pies John Paul consumed in his lifetime, just that he probably should be in a pepperoni hall of fame somewhere.
On Thursday, it won’t be easy for anyone to swallow with a lump in their throats.
They know, however, John Paul would not want them to be sad.
He would want every slice to be pure joy. He would want them to remember the good times, so they will.
Contact Gris at 744-4275 or email@example.com.