Obituary: Rose Gravina / Hairdresser who played piano for silent films

May 27, 1910 - July 4, 2014

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Rose Gravina never revealed her secret for a long life, but anyone who spent any time with her probably could have figured it out.

That's if they could keep up with her.

From helping her sons deliver newspapers when they were growing up to her work as a hairdresser and in a McKeesport card store, Mrs. Gravina always seemed to be on the move.

Even age couldn't slow her down. She was still doing her neighbors' hair when she was 90 years old.

"She outlived all of her clients. That's why she had to stop," said Carol Reis, her daughter who lives in Allison Park.

When she turned 100 in 2010, Mrs. Gravina was as feisty as ever, playing bingo and participating in singalongs at the Village of St. Barnabas in Richland, where she and her husband lived.

"I think Mom was always busy doing things. I guess we figured that's what kept her going," Mrs. Reis said.

Mrs. Gravina was still active when she fell ill about a month ago. She died July 4 at The Arbors III at St. Barnabas. She was 104.

Born in Yatesboro, Armstrong County, Mrs. Gravina arrived only seven years after the Wright Brothers made their first successful airplane flight and two years after Henry Ford debuted the Model T.

She lived through two world wars, the Great Depression, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the civil rights upheaval and counter culture revolution in the 1960s, the resignation of President Richard Nixon, the election of America's first black president, innumerable medical advances and the advent of the Internet and other technologies, all of which would have been the stuff of science fiction at the time of her birth.

Mrs. Gravina got her first job as a youngster playing piano in her parents' silent movie theater. It was perhaps an apropos assignment given that her mother was a playmate of silent film star Rudolph Valentino.

Years later, during a visit to Rochester, N.Y., where her grandmother lived, Mrs. Gravina met Orlando "Art" Gravina. They married on Sept. 2, 1940, in Indiana, Pa., and moved to Rochester.

It proved to be the start a long and rewarding marriage that spanned 73 years until Mrs. Gravina's death. The couple was feted several times over the past decade for their longevity together. Mr. Gravina is 99.

Mrs. Reis said her mother always had an answer when asked about the secret to her marriage.

"You never go to bed angry. That was her philosophy. Growing up, I never heard my parents argue. They may have done so behind closed doors, but I never heard them argue," she said.

After marrying, the couple settled in Rochester, where Mrs. Gravina did hairdressing out of their home while her husband worked as a foreman in a clothing factory. When needed, Mrs. Gravina also would help her three sons deliver newspapers on their routes.

In 1963, the couple moved to Pittsburgh, where they took over the Memory Mart card shop in McKeesport. They moved it to the former Cox's department store and managed it for 17 years before retiring.

If she wasn't working, Mrs. Gravina probably was baking. She enjoyed making bread and was known for her Italian knot cookies. She also made biscotti and chocolate chip cookies, and enjoyed entertaining.

"Nothing was ever a problem for my mother," Mrs. Reis said. "You just showed up. She loved to laugh -- at herself, too. She loved company. She used to say this is so good getting together. It's so much better than getting together for my funeral."

Mrs. Gravina also liked to crochet afghan blankets.

"Everybody got a crochet afghan. That was her thing. When you got married, you got an afghan from my mom, and everyone still has them," Mrs. Reis said.

Besides her daughter and her husband, Mrs. Gravina is survived by two sons, Thomas of Fox Chapel and Robert of Myrtle Beach, S.C., and numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren.

There will be no visitation. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Richard Catholic Church, 3841 Dickey Road, Richland.

Memorial donations may be made to St. Barnabas Charities, 5850 Meridian Road, Gibsonia, Pa., 15044.


Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.

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