After death, Big Josh Foundation lives on to help others

Local bartenders band together to help raise funds for the bartender and service community with the Big Josh Foundation, named after Josh Gehlbach. (John Gibbins/Union-Tribune)
(John Gibbins / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Waves of sadness came ashore at the news of the passing of San Diego’s beloved gentle giant, Joshua “Big Josh” Gehlbach. After bravely fighting an aggressive and excruciatingly painful form of cancer, Josh succumbed to the disease on March 14, 2017. After impacting countless locals and tourists with his infectious warmth and never-ending smile, grief at his passing has cascaded out from family and friends to the bar industry, and the larger community of San Diego.

Despite the shock and sadness, many are celebrating his legacy of kindness, humor, humility, and love. Amongst his many life-giving lessons, he taught everyone about true inner strength and spirit.

As close friend Patrick Giblin said in his eulogy, “Joshua Theodore Gehlbach showed us all how to be unforgettable. It is not in your wealth. It is not in your social profiles. It is not in your titles. It is not in your size. It is not in the coloring on your skin. It is not in your things. It is not in the way you look. It is what is within YOU!” (You can find the entire eulogy, here.)

“Josh taught me that the only thing that matters at the end of life is how much you give love and receive love every day.” Katie Gehlbach, Big Josh’s wife

Recently, PACIFIC spoke with Big Josh’s wife, Katie, along with Patrick and Amber Hill of the Big Josh Foundation about the unforgettable man, and what lies ahead.

PACIFIC: What would you like people out there to know?

KATIE: I want to say thank you. Josh and I are so thankful for the way this community has come together, and I look forward to helping many people in the future. Without the Big Josh Foundation and all of the love and support, we would have been screwed. This community is amazing.

What are your personal plans for the foundation?

KATIE: I would not wish this on anyone in the world. I don’t want to see anyone suffer. But this is going to happen again. Someone else is going to need our help. I plan on continuing my husband’s legacy forever. Josh taught me that the only thing that matters at the end of life is how much you give love and receive love every day.

What has been the response in the community?

PATRICK: There is grief. Within that grief there is an awakening of a need and an understanding. It also exposed the emotional crisis, the financial crisis, and the family crisis of terminal disease. The response has been emotional, moving, and inspirational. People have a true understanding of why this has to be continued, fed, and sustained. It’s about who Josh was to everyone.

KATIE: It was amazing to see the community come together and I think we will start there, praying we can help as many people as we can in the future. That’s what Josh would do.

What’s currently happening with the Big Josh Foundation?

PATRICK: The foundation is in the ecosystem of the service industry. We are beginning to organize a pledge for employees to donate per paycheck, tax deductible, and potentially have restaurants match it. We haven’t asked for any formal commitments yet, but we need to get in front of it. There was another bartender that was diagnosed with ALS and died just a few months before Josh, and there was not a Big Josh Foundation to support him. Josh is not a random story. This will happen again. Our mission is to share with the community, and be able to support them.

What’s next for the foundation?

PATRICK: Even though Josh has passed, the community is committed to keep it going. We’d like to see this go to other cities, as we are able to build this footprint in San Diego.

How to help

To show your support, check out the following Big Josh Foundation events.

Big Josh Night with the San Diego Gulls: In case you didn’t know, Big Josh was a HUGE hockey fan. On May 10, 12 and 13, when the Gulls take on the San Jose Barracudas in the Calder Cup Playoffs, $4 of tickets purchased at will go toward the foundation. Valley View Casino Center, Sports Arena,

Industry Boxing, Hard Rock Hotel: Known as the “Rooftop Rumble” this event has industry members battling it out in a professional size ring, and is presented by RMD Group & Victory MMA. 7 p.m. June 4, 2017 Fifth, Ave., downtown. For details and tickets visit

Resident Brewing’s Big Josh Foundation beer: Availabile this summer, this specially brewed tribute will be pouring at Resident Brewing at The Local and at bars and restaurants around San Diego. $1 from each pint sold will be donated to the foundation. 1065 Fourth Ave., downtown.

For more information on hosting your own Big Josh Foundation event, attending fundraisers, and how to help, visit


Bartender community unites to help friend in need