Gaddy, who gave much, received much from Pica

November 22, 2001|By Michael Olesker

NOW COMES the first Thanksgiving in years without the helping hand of Bea Gaddy, who left us last month. She was a blessing to those who had lost their way. But Bea counted her own gifts, among them the enduring friendship of John Pica Sr., in the unlikeliest way.

It was Pica, 77 now, who was sitting at the bar in Velleggia's Restaurant, in Little Italy, one night back in the late 1960s when Bea's brother tried to stick up the place. Frank Velleggia was there that night, and so was Judge Henry Stichel.

The whole story is recounted on a videotape recorded one night by Bea and by Velleggia, when they were paying a 75th-birthday tribute to Pica, the former councilman, former aide to Mayor Tommy D'Alesandro Jr. and celebrated World War II hero.

It was Pica, Bea makes clear in the tape, who always came through for her - not just on Thanksgiving but lots of times when she was looking after the city's homeless and its hungry and didn't know when the next round of food might be arriving.

"I don't know if you know it," Bea says in the videotape, "but John Pica was responsible for sending Continental Food trucks to our place on Collington Avenue. We never had enough food for people. But then a Continental Food truck would show up, and it was John Pica.

"Wherever you are, John Pica, I love you dearly, and I'll never forget you."

The words take on an added poignancy since Bea's death in early October, after a long struggle with cancer. Pica's still around, though. He's moved back to Little Italy, and is hanging out with some of his old buddies. It was Pica's pal John Guerriero, of Continental Foods, who'd drive the truck to Bea's after she'd begun working with the city's homeless.

But it was some years before that when she met Pica. As she says in the videotape, she was living on Pratt Street at the time with her kids and her brother Peter. They had little to sustain them. And one night her brother slipped out of the house and tried to raise some money the old-fashioned way, with a gun.

As Frank Velleggia picks up the story, "A guy walks in and pulls a gun on the bartender. He doesn't know what to do. So John [Pica] gets up, and gets this oval tray that they use to carry food around. He goes toward him. I said, `What the hell are you doing?'

"And John starts pushing him out toward the door with the tray. If the guy wanted to shoot him, the tray wouldn't stop a BB. ... John didn't care. He gets him out the door" while somebody else phoned for the police.

Now the case comes to court, where Bea Gaddy picks up the story in the videotape.

"I wake up to find my brother was in Velleggia's," she says. "He hit a man upside the head with a pistol. So we're in Southeastern District Court - now, I want you to hear this. The judge calls up my brother Peter. Behind him walks this tall, refined, gray-haired white man. I see where my brother's charged with hitting this man, John Pica, upside the head with a gun.

"I said, `Judge, whatever my brother could find, that's everything that fed us.' And I see John Pica listening, and he whispers something to the judge."

What he told the judge was: Don't send this man to jail. Let him work for me. Pica, a child of the Depression, was a veteran of ferocious World War II fighting. By now, he had his own business, Alpine Construction. Gaddy's brother Peter went to work for him, stayed about a year, then moved to Philadelphia and has stayed out of trouble ever since.

"He gave my brother a job," Bea says in the tape. "I stood in that courtroom and said, `Lord, have mercy.' I was so grateful."

That's not all. While the brother worked for Pica, John would take him home every Friday with a bag of food for Bea and her kids. About 10 years ago, Pica's daughter, Maria, met Bea one night at a Loyola College graduation.

"I saw her across the room," Maria Pica said this week, "and my father said, `You want to meet her? She's my friend.' I said, `She is?'" Pica had never told his daughter that he knew Gaddy.

"She said to me, `Do you know how many years your father has been helping me feed the poor people?'" Maria Pica remembered. "I said, `He has?' She said, `I'm waiting for your father to testify against my brother, and he offers him a job instead.' I had no idea my father even knew her.

"And then she said, `Your father fed me before I fed Baltimore.'"

For years, when most people were busy feeding themselves, Bea Gaddy was tending to thousands who had nothing. But she had a lot of help from people on her side.

It's nice to see Bea in the old video and remember all the good she did for people on Thanksgiving Day, and all the days that weren't full of thanks. And nice to know that some people are still trying to carry on in her memory.

Until the end of her own life, she remembered how John Pica helped her in the kindest of ways.

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