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Friends, family celebrate life of beloved Bill’s Pizza founder with stories — of course — pizza – Desert Sun

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Friends and family gather at a public memorial for Bill Tracy, founder of Bill’s Pizza, at the Palm Springs restaurant on Oct. 19, 2019. Risa Johnson, Palm Springs Desert Sun

Bill Tracy, the beloved founder of the popular Bill’s Pizza, went above and beyond for the people in his life and also for strangers. 

That is how he was remembered Saturday night by the many friends and relatives who attended his celebration of life and shared stories and bites of his legendary pizza at the restaurant’s main Coachella Valley location. 

True to the way Tracy lived his life, anyone and everyone was welcome. 

Friends described him as a man who was exceedingly generous, someone who provided cash advances to employees so they could get into better living situations. Bought someone a car. Paid the bills so his friends could go to rehab. Delivered free food to emergency room workers and people living on the street. 

Tracy, 69, died in September from health complications after a falling from the roof of his Palm Desert restaurant. During his recovery, he developed a lung infection that led him to be placed in an induced coma, which he did not recover from. 

‘Compassion for everybody’

A testament to how much Tracy influenced lives, Stephanie Hollingsworth and her family traveled from Prescott, Arizona to make it to the memorial. 

Hollingsworth was one of the original employees of Tracy’s first restaurants in Arizona and worked with Tracy for about 10 years.

She described Tracy as a funny, accepting and philanthropic man. 

“He had a lot of compassion for everybody,” Hollingsworth said. “He was the best boss I’ve ever had in my life.” 

In the last few years, Tracy and his wife, Elma Tracy, who resided in Palm Springs, adopted a baby girl. Getting emotional, Hollingsworth said she “knew how much he loved Elma.” 

Finding a passion for pizza

Tracy’s older brother by 3½ years, psychotherapist Jim Tracy of Rancho Mirage, described a winding path that ultimately led his brother to the restaurant business.

After majoring in biology at California State University, Chico,  Bill Tracy took a job at the U.S. Postal Service where he remained for about 10 years. Growing bored with that, he decided he wanted to become a certified public accountant.

He passed the difficult CPA exam on his first try — a notable feat — but his brother said Bill Tracy didn’t last long in his first accounting job. So then, he pivoted again. This time he found his passion — in culinary school. 

Tracy worked as a chef on a fishing boat before opening his first restaurant, a diner in Prescott, Ariz. that served breakfast and lunch, his brother said. 

Upon selling that restaurant, Tracy “made a killing” and decided to move to Mexico for a year to learn Spanish — just because he could, his brother said.

The next year he spent perfecting his dough recipe before opening the original Bill’s Pizza in Arizona. He wanted his pizza to be the best in the country, his brother said. 

“He decided that’s what he was going to do, so he was gonna do it,” said Jim Tracy. “By God, he was gonna do it.” 

The Palm Springs restaurant opened in 2010 and the Palm Desert location followed in 2017. 

Bill Tracy found “crazy success” selling pizza right off the bat, his brother said. Bill’s Pizza was recognized as one of the Top 10 pizza places in the country in 2015 by TripAdvisor. 

Tracy’s business background and original recipes were an excellent mix and he developed a lucrative business, his brother said. 

Jim Tracy said he became the executor of Bill Tracy’s estate upon his death. Jim vowed and that things would “continue on” at the restaurants in Palm Springs and Palm Desert. 

Steven Helland, longtime chef at Bill’s Pizza, said Bill Tracy’s “genius was the dough he created.”

He said what Bill’s Pizza offers is a simple menu and a good value. What sets the restaurant apart is the dough and the focus on fresh ingredients, Helland added.

He described Tracy as a best friend and mentor. The two worked together starting in 2007 and Helland followed Tracy and the business out to Palm Springs. 

He also described his friend and colleague as a generous person. 

“The way he treated people, he was an angel,” Helland said. 

Another thing he will miss is Tracy’s colorful personality. Literally, he liked to wear tall, bright compression socks with crazy patterns and shorts, Helland said. 

Also, there was the time someone joked that Tracy should dye his hair blue. And he actually did it. Why not? 

More: Bill’s Pizza founder Bill Tracy, known for business sense, generosity, dies following fall from roof

More: Bill’s Pizza to open Palm Desert location

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