Desmond Ritchie

Desmond Ritchie The Older Gentleman and other Hoopty-Do’s

Over the weekend we said goodbye to one of our own, who recently passed away.

For 47 years (yes, you read that right), Desmond Ritchie worked here at Piedmont Grocery. He more than earned the moniker Mr. Piedmont. Our longtime customers will remember his face, if not his name. He started his tenure at P.G. in 1958 as a teenager folding bakery boxes. His work ethic, loyalty, and determination saw him retire as the store manager in 2005. Des was much more than an employee; he was family.

Des was often described as a Big Man with a Bigger Voice—which was true. But it was his big heart that I will remember most. There was no one more generous of his time, attention and, yes, advice than Des. If you were lucky enough to call him friend, you knew he would be there for you no matter what time of day or night or situation…and believe me when my Dad and Des were younger, there were situations. (Of course, now those situations have become wet yourself laughing stories…)

As a kid, I knew Des as the man with green carnations and Sees Chocolate Potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day. Des got really excited about St. Patrick’s Day as any Irish lad should, and because of him, St. Patrick’s Day has always been a big deal for us at the store.

Des remains a legend here at Piedmont Grocery. His flip chart of instructions on how to properly bag groceries has been enshrined in our office, and his worn and well-loved cardigan holds a place of honor on our Wall of Fame in the warehouse. He had his own language, and some phrases can still be heard in the aisles even years after his retirement: Hoopty-Do’s, The Turtle Express, Changing tires in the middle of the freeway, Mrs. Jones Yanking on My Tie, and Puttin’ Lead In the Hamburgers.(It may sound like gibberish to you, but to us here it makes perfect sense.) Anything new or remotely beneficial to your health was immediately labeled as Hippie. Hippie Chips…Hippie Bread…Hippie Cereal…

For the record, Des would have hated that I have written this, and if he were sitting here beside me right now I would be getting the look. He was a private man and wouldn’t have wanted a big fuss. But, here’s the thing…when someone has such a positive impact on the people around him you have to celebrate that life. Des was that kind of man, and we will miss him very much.

Des was also a lover of good food and wine, especially a good red. So, in lieu of a recipe this week—I ask that you enjoy a glass of your favorite red, and raise a toast to a life well-lived and a man well-loved by many.

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