Ed Grisamore

Gris: Bikes keep memory rolling

When Todd Beach and James Taylor met some 25 years ago, it didn’t take long to find common ground.

They attended the same church, Lizzie Chapel Baptist. They were passionate about sports and soon began coaching together at Macon Little League and the Macon-Bibb County Recreation Department. They were both huge fans of the Miami Hurricanes.

They became the best of friends. Todd was godfather to James’ children, Brian and Danyell.

Their brotherly love began another journey at Memorial Gym on Second Street in 1993. It was the foundation for what would become a Christmas ministry that honors the memory of Todd, who left this world way too soon.

James and Todd were participating in a recreation basketball league at Memorial when the director asked if they would help purchase bicycles for children in the neighborhood.

They each bought two. The next year, they bought two again. It became a tradition ... and a competition. One year Todd bought five, and his buddy was challenged to do the same.

They did this every year without a lot of fanfare. It was a long time before their wives even knew about it.

James last saw his friend on Christmas Eve in 2005. He went over to help Santa Claus put together bicycles for Todd’s young daughters, Kirsten and Tyler.

Todd had sickle cell anemia but kept it a guarded secret from everyone but his family and close friends. By New Year’s Day, he was in intensive care with a bowel duct obstruction that led to liver failure.

He died two weeks later, a terrible Friday the 13th. He was 41 years old.

There was only a year’s difference between Todd and his younger sister, Gina.

“We were almost like twins,” she said. They attended Ellsworth Hall Elementary, then Appling Middle and Northeast High, where Todd was a drummer in the marching band.

When they were young, the JCPenney holiday catalog would arrive in the mail in August. Their father, William Beach, would tell them they could put a check mark by everything they wanted.

Todd was especially close to his mother, Allie Rose Beach. It was a unique relationship. He called her every night.

“He truly was a mama’s boy,” Gina said. “Before he took his last breath, he opened his eyes, looked at Mama and held her hand as if to say I will love you forever. Then he closed his eyes. She holds on to that moment dearly. He was her heart, and she was his.”

Natalie Beach knew there was something special about Todd when she met him during her Thanksgiving break her sophomore year of college in 1991. She had graduated from Mary Persons High School in Forsyth and was attending Hampton University in Virginia. She thought about him while driving back to college. In the days before cellphones, she arrived to her roommate’s line of questioning: “Who is this Todd Beach and why has he called 10 times?”

They married over Thanksgiving weekend on Nov. 25, 1995. Three years to the day later, their first child, Kirsten, was born.

Todd dearly loved his two daughters, and he also had a special relationship with Gina’s children -- Kacie, now 28, and Ryan, 27.

“He helped me raise them,” said Gina, a first-grade teacher at Rosa Taylor Elementary for the past 23 years. “He spent time with them, took them on school field trips. He was a father figure.”

There was not an ounce of Grinch in Todd.

“He would give you the shirt off his back,” Gina said.

His funeral was attended by more than 1,000 people, one of the largest in the history of Lizzie Chapel, which was established in 1892.

“Everybody walked out of there thinking they were Todd’s best friend,” James said.

James said he wanted a way to honor the memory of his friend, to “keep his dream alive.” He approached the Rev. Ronald Toney, the pastor at Lizzie Chapel, and asked if he could start a Christmas bicycle ministry and call it the Todd Beach Bike-ARAMA.

“I have always believed if a kid didn’t get anything else for Christmas but a bike, it would make their Christmas,” James said.

The church got involved. So did Kappa Alpha Psi, Todd’s college fraternity from Mercer, along with other organizations and individual donors. About 100 new bicycles were purchased that first Christmas in 2006 and given to children in the community.

Many of the bikes had to be assembled and air put in the tires, so it took a lot of elves to get the wheels rolling. James now takes the money raised through donations and purchases the bikes from Wal-Mart on Zebulon Road.

About 100 have been given away every year since. Last year, there were 118. James receives lists of children from Loaves & Fishes, Ingram-Pye Elementary, the Rescue Mission of Middle Georgia, the Motivating Youth Foundation and other organizations.

The bicycles will be lined up outside the church on Bartlett Street on Tuesday at 2 p.m., and children from the community will begin arriving for what has become a memory-making day.

“It’s a heartwarming and wonderful tribute, especially at Christmas,” Natalie said. “Our daughters were 7 and 3 when their father died, so this allows them to see what kind of man he was, how generous he was and what kind of heart he had.”

Contact Gris at 744-4275 or egrisamore@macon.com.