Bad news travels fast in a small town.
Eighteen miles away, the story in the Athens newspaper began:
A 60-year-old Jefferson woman and an unidentified man were killed in a Friday morning wreck in Banks County, according to the Georgia State Patrol’s post in Gainesville.
The “unidentified man” is Tony Ianuario and the “60-year-old Jefferson woman” is his wife Ann. His custom-made mandolins have been played by well known performers including Bill Monroe and Jesse McReynolds. The Smithsonian knows his work and Hearts and Hands: Musical Instrument Makers of America recognizes him as one of the top 250 instrument makers in the U.S.
His full white beard and costume (designed by Ann) have been transforming him into Father Christmas for local children for 17 years. Ann’s writing and her work as a Master Gardener are widely appreciated throughout the region. She was a long-time library and museum volunteer.
The local paper had more details: A well-known Jefferson couple was killed in a Banks county wreck Friday on Hwy. 63 at Hwy. 51. Killed were Tony and Ann Ianuario, Jefferson. The wreck reportedly involved a tractor trailer and a SUV, but no official details were available Saturday about the cause of the wreck.
The response of neighbors and friends was more personal, spread via phone calls and knocks on the front door, had we heard about Tony and Ann? When had we last seen them? Weren’t we planning to call with a new volunteer project? Hadn’t some of Ann’s writing just been posted? When was the next bluegrass jam session scheduled?
More often that not, I saw Tony and Ann at the local Food Lion as we raced up and down the aisles grabbing a few groceries for the week. A quick hello, small talk. and the latest news before they were off to pick up a half gallon of Mayfield Milk and I was off for another box of Cheerios.
They died together. That was for the best, people said. Even so, we wished there had been a moment for a last goodbye and an encore performance of one more song.