Joe Wade loved people.
For 35 years, he feasted on friendship as he talked about music and football in the grocery aisles.
Wade was so good at customer service that his job became his identity as “Kroger Joe.”
“He knew almost everybody in Macon,” said his son, Bryant Wade, who was named for the famed University of Alabama football coach Bear Bryant.
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His love of “Bama” football overflowed into the stands of Tattnall Square Academy where his volunteer efforts earned him a Trojan helmet signed by all the players.
Wade grew close to members of the Allman Brothers Band, posed with Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell and even befriended wrestler Andre the Giant, who stopped in a Macon Kroger store early one morning.
Although Wade retired from the Kroger on Forsyth Road about a dozen years ago, he’d often go back just to talk to the people.
“He was friendly, friendly, friendly,” said Romney Tucker, while eating breakfast at Jeneane’s downtown earlier this week.
News of Wade’s death Tuesday dominated the discussion among the table of regulars.
“He could talk about any subject you wanted to talk about,” Tucker said.
If people could not pay for their groceries, he’d help them out, said former Bibb County Commissioner Joe Allen, who often chatted with Wade when Allen was stationed at the fire station down the street.
“He’d give you the shirt of his back,” Allen said.
One elderly customer who received a terminal diagnosis gave Wade his Rolex.
He had a heart for all, including a midget football player with no father figure in his life. Wade made sure he got to practices and games.
His favorite spot was near Kroger’s front door -- whether at the old Cherokee shopping center on Pio Nono, Emery Highway where the health department is now, or Riverside Drive, which was most recently Gold’s Gym.
Former Security Bank branch manager Sue Cannon was ready to put him on the payroll for encouraging so many customers to bank with her inside the Kroger at Wesleyan Station.
“If I ever felt like I had a friend, it was Joe Wade,” Cannon said.
Plus, he could sniff out shoplifters before they could get away with the goods.
“He’d get on the speaker and say, ‘Security, go to Aisle 7,’ to scare them and they’d put down the merchandise,” Cannon said.
Toni Wade said her husband of 38 years had the “gift of gab.”
“If you were in a hurry and had to run in and run out, you’d better dodge him because he’d stop and talk to you,” she said.
His heart had been giving him trouble, but it was a brain abscess that took his life Tuesday at the age of 74.
His ashes will go on the mantel beside his beloved dogs. “Kroger Joe” didn’t want an obituary or a funeral.
“He just wanted people to go around thinking he was still going on,” Toni Wade said. “He never forgot a face. He always remembered you.”
If he could have uttered any last words, he likely would have repeated his trademark farewell, “Keep on smilin.’”
To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.