When he started out wiping tables and washing dishes at age 13, Tom Gaddis probably didn’t realize that the job would be the humble beginning to a lifelong profession.
More than 30 years later, Gaddis, who coordinates the Hospitality concentration in the Business Administration program at Pellissippi State Technical Community College, has received a PAULY Award for his contributions to the hospitality industry.
“It was a real surprise to me,” he said. “I was sitting at the table, and they started talking about the next award winner, and I thought, That’s me!”
Gaddis’ PAULY was for Service/Supplier Employee of the Year. Susan Whitaker, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, presented Gaddis with the honor at the Fourth Annual PAULY Awards ceremony May 1.
Gaddis is a past president of the Knoxville Tourism Alliance and immediate past president of Skal, a tourism professionals organization. In 2001 he was named Educator of the Year by the Tennessee Hospitality Education Council.
Gaddis credits his dad with helping him discover a passion for the hospitality industry. When he was 13 and wanted a motorcycle, his dad challenged him to earn the money for it. So, Gaddis’ career in hospitality began with washing dishes at a restaurant.
He went on to earn a doctoral degree in hospitality from the University of Tennessee and has been the head of Hospitality at Pellissippi State for 11 years.
“We’ve got about 70 students taking classes, some full time, some part time,” he said. “Of those who’ve made it through the program, we’ve had 100 percent placement.”
Gaddis points out that the hospitality industry allows for flexibility.
“Restaurants, hotels and travel agencies are everywhere in the world, so you can pick where you live.” Some students now have international jobs, he says, and a couple have gone to work for Disney.
Gaddis says it’s very gratifying to attend industry functions and see former students who are now business owners.
The awards ceremony was sponsored by the Knoxville Tourism Alliance, the UT Tourism Institute and Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corporation. Eleven PAULYs were presented during the luncheon at the Foundry.
The award is named in honor of Paul Sherbakoff, a longtime leader in Knoxville’s tourism industry.
“Paul was the first manager of the Hyatt Regency,” Gaddis said. “He was instrumental in bringing tourism to Knoxville. He’s one of the nicest people you’d ever meet.”