Community remembers late wife of former Fresh Meadows councilman

By Madina Toure

Friends and family of the late Joanne Gennaro, wife of former City Councilman James Gennaro and a Hollis native, described her as a warm, friendly woman who always supported her loved ones.

Gennaro, 64, died March 18 at the age of 64 from suspected multiple system atrophy, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects the nervous system, according to her son, Daily News Executive Editor Rich O’Malley. She had been fighting the condition for the last eight years.

“She was everything to us,” O’Malley said. “She was a mother, father, sister, brother to me for so many years because it was just the two of us. She was a single mom and she was going to school to give us a better life to be able to get a better job.”

He said she supported all of her family in whatever they wanted to pursue, noting that she helped her second husband, James Gennaro, tremendously during his campaign for City Council.

“She even went door-to-door herself for him and made phone calls for him,” he said. “She just went all in and that’s how she was.”

Paul Leonard, communications director for City Councilwoman Margaret Chin (D-Manhattan), who served as communications director for James Gennaro from 2012 to 2014, praised his wife.

“In my life, I’ve never seen a man more devoted to his wife than Jim. My thoughts are with him, and the rest of Joanne’s family and friends at this difficult time,” Leonard said in a statement.

One of six children, Gennaro was born and raised in Hollis. She attended the now-closed St. Pascal Bayon High School in St. Albans, then worked at the Port Authority.

In the early 1970s, she married Dennis Patrick O’Malley, who was also from Hollis. The pair briefly lived in Georgia, Florida and Virginia, where she gave birth to Rich in 1975.

Two years later, her first husband was killed in a naval training accident out in the Mediterranean Sea while doing landings on a carrier. Gennaro and her son Rich then moved back to Hollis, near her mother’s home.

She earned her associate’s degree in court management at St. John’s University in May 1983 while working in the alumni department.

On Halloween 1988, she met James Gennaro, whom she dated and eventually married in July 1991. Their daughter, Christina, now 21 and a junior at FIT in Manhattan, was born in March 1995.

Joanne Gennaro worked at PartyLyte, a candle and household items sales company, and as a director of development at Bishop Molloy Retreat House in Jamaica Estates.

She made an organ donation to the NYU Dysautonomia Center, where she was treated.

Community Board 8 member Jim Gallagher, president of the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association, has known Gennaro and his family since the late 1990s when he was president of the Jamaica Estates Association.

“They were always very nice to us, very accommodating, to my family, especially to Yolanda (Gallagher’s wife),” Gallagher said.

The wake took place at R. Stutzmann & Son funeral home at 224-39 Jamaica Ave. in Queens Village.

The funeral mass was held Thursday morning at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Jamaica Estates. The family asked for donations to the Dysautonomia Foundation in lieu of flowers.

City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), who was James Gennaro’s deputy chief of staff for six years, said hundreds of people attended the wake Wednesday afternoon.

“Their love for each other was always so pure, so beautiful,” Constantinides said. “She was a great mother to their son, Rich, and Christina, their daughter. This whole journey they went through, Joanne was always upbeat, was a wonderful person, would ask me about my family and ask me about how things were going.”

Joanne is also survived by her mother, Susan Pryor, 88, and siblings James, Andrew, Jeffrey and Robert Pryor and Jo-Ellen.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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