Mrs. Josephine Ann “Jo Ann” Bianco died on April 27, 2019, in Rochester after a very brief illness.
Mrs. Bianco, who was 93 years old, remained active and in good spirits until the end. She played her last hand of bridge, a pastime at which she long excelled, just three days before she passed away peacefully in her bed at Charter House. Jo Ann’s husband of 64 years, Dr. Anthony J. Bianco, Jr., died in 2016.
Josephine Reavill was born in Duluth on Feb. 18, 1926. Her father, Richey B. Reavill, was a prominent Duluth lawyer who was named president of the Minnesota State Bar Association in 1961, and her mother, Josephine McCarthy, was a college-educated Chicagoan and a cousin of the novelist Mary McCarthy. Jo Ann learned golf from her mother and was a standout on the course at Northland Country Club for many years. She attended high school at Stanbrook Hall, a Catholic girl’s school affiliated with the College of St. Scholastica, where she was known as “Rev” and graduated in 1943. The caption under her photo in the senior yearbook read: “Rev ... Snap! Crackle! Pop! ... plaid shirts and blue jeans.” She went to college at St. Scholastica, earning an advanced nursing degree in a five-year program.
Jo Ann was teaching nursing at St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth when the man whom her sister Nancy was dating, Jim Bianco, introduced her to his older brother. Tony Bianco and Jo Ann Reavill were married in Duluth on April 15, 1952. Their union was a triumph of familial symmetry: Jo Ann was the eldest of four sisters, Tony the eldest of four brothers.
The newlyweds lived in Rochester, where Dr. Bianco was just a few months into a four-year fellowship at Mayo Clinic. Jo Ann worked part-time as a nursing instructor at the other St. Mary’s until her husband was called to active duty in the U.S. Navy later in 1952 and stationed at Camp Pendleton in southern California. Jo Anne joined Tony in California, where she gave birth to her first child in 1953, and followed the fleet to Honolulu when Lt. Bianco was assigned to an attack transport based there at the tail end of the Korean War.
Dr. and Mrs. Bianco returned to Rochester in 1954 and would spend the rest of their lives in the city, residing first in the Graham addition, a Mayo-owned subdivision for married fellows better known as the “Prefabs.” After Tony was named to the permanent staff of the clinic in 1958, the family moved to Pill Hill briefly before settling in a big house at the foot of Institute Hills Road near Mayowood in what, in the 1960s, still was “the country.”
Over a span of 14 years, Jo Ann gave birth to five sons and two daughters. Motherhood was her metier: no woman could be more devoted to her husband and her children. Amid the domestic chaos that often swirled around her, she remained cheerful and positive, if occasionally discombobulated. Although a traditionalist in many ways, she was open to the new. She bought her kids the first Beatles record as soon as it came out and watched with them as the band made its famous American debut on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” (Her favorite Beatle was “the cute one” — Paul.) Too soft a touch to qualify as a disciplinarian, she nonetheless was a lifelong stickler for correct grammar who attended Sunday Mass at St. John’s Church without fail and could summon iron willpower on occasion. Jo Ann was a two-pack-a-day smoker when she announced one day shortly after her 40th birthday that she was quitting cold turkey. She never smoked another cigarette, an achievement rewarded by 53 additional cancer-free years.
Jo Ann made new friends easily and kept them for life. “She was straightforward, in contrast to the overweening, always-trying-to-be-nice approach of some people,” says Mrs. Rita H. Mayo, Jo Ann’s close friend for more than 50 years. “You knew who you were dealing with when you dealt with Jo Ann. She didn’t have any pretense about her, and I really appreciated that.” Another of her best friends, Mrs. Myra Sullivan, lived just up the hill from the Biancos in the Merrihills neighborhood with her six sons. Jo Anne was so active in support of Myra during the prolonged Sullivan family crisis documented in the book “Thirty Rooms to Hide In,” that the Sullivan boys took to calling her Aunt Jo Ann. “She was a very big deal to all of us Sullivans,” recalls Luke Sullivan, the author of Thirty Rooms.
Throughout her later years, Mrs. Bianco doted on her grandchildren, proudly adding a new charm to the necklace she always wore after each of them was born. Her decades of unrequited longing for a red-headed descendant finally ended with the birth in 2018 of her second great-grandchild, Anthony John, who visited her for the last time the day before she died. Jo Ann was only marginally less preoccupied with the fortunes of the Minnesota Vikings, applauding the team’s good sense in selecting an offensive lineman in the first round of the recent NFL draft. Although, she stopped attending Sunday Mass some years ago, she remained a believer to the end, taking communion almost every day in her room at Charter House.
Mrs. Bianco is survived by two sisters, Nancy Wunder and Marnie Rooney; seven children, Anthony III, Richard (Frances), Christopher, Ann, Peter (Mary Pat), Amy (John) and Andrew (Stephanie); nine grandchildren, Morgan (David), Kate (Rick), Alexandra (John), Zoe, Marissa, Edward, Grace, Joanna and Louella, and two great-grandchildren, Eleanor and A. J.
Jo Ann Bianco will be greatly missed by all who knew her. Cue the classic “Autumn Leaves,” a favorite song of Jo Ann’s: “The falling leaves drift by the window/The autumn leaves of red and gold/ I see your lips, the summer kisses/The sunburned hands I used to hold/ Since you went away, the days grow long/And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song/ But I miss you most of all, my darling/ When autumn leaves start to fall.”
A memorial service for Mrs. Bianco will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, May 24, at Charter House in Rochester. The Bianco family would like to thank the staff of Charter House for taking such good care of her in her final years. The family also extend its thanks to the RBC Wealth Management for its fine work over the years.