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Pyramid Highway’s co-pilot
by Nathan Orme
Mar 20, 2011 | 821 views | 0 0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
From the spot where Ann Barlettani will soon be laid to her eternal rest, she will be able to see the place where she was born. But between her birth at Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center and her interment at Mountain View Cemetery in Reno, she has gone many places and touched many lives.

Foremost among those lives was that of her longtime husband and Sparks Tribune cartoonist Woody Barlettani. To give Ann proper respect, all I would have to tell you is that she was married to Woody for nearly 30 years. I could end this obituary here and she’d qualify for a medal. But there is much more to say about her. I only knew Ann through Woody during the final year of life, but we’ll get to that later.

Born Ann Mangum on April 29, 1947, she was the daughter of “the bread man” at Welch’s Bakery in Reno, Woody told me. Ann had two brothers, one of whom was killed by a drunk driver at Stead Air Force Base as a teenager, an incident that was very hard on her family.

Ann’s father succumbed to alcohol consumption in 1978 at the age of 52, Woody told me.

A member of the first graduating class at Wooster High School in 1965, Ann worked in Reno’s thriving club and casino industry for many years and had a daughter, Marcy, in 1968. In 1983, Ann had taken a job as a cab driver where one day another cabbie, a zany hippie named Woody, stole her fare at the Mayfair Market, which was located where the Silver Legacy now stands. She was mad at Woody, but to this day it’s not easy to stay mad at the guy. The two fell in love and got married in a big party held at Ralston and Fifth streets.

“It was a huge party,” Woody remembered with a laugh. “The cops came and everything.”

According to his account, it was the nuns living nearby who called the police on them. Knowing Woody, it wouldn’t surprise me if this memory was true or festively altered, but it makes for a great tale either way.

Woody talked of their various adventures around the region, including raising three daughters (each of them had one previously and they took in another as an abandoned teenager), being among the originators of the Reno-Sparks Cab Co. and serving drinks to influential locals as bartenders at the Reno Turf Club, which he said was located on Commercial Row at the time.

He described it as a “smoky old horse parlor” frequented only by locals, and his wife was well known among police, politicians and power brokers there. Ann was particularly unafraid of cutting off patrons who had imbibed too much, even driving them home herself sometimes. Her motherly ways also could be seen when she and Woody ran the Sunshine Ice Cream Co. in Sparks. Woody told a story of one time when a child wanted a ride on their truck and jumped aboard while it was still moving. Ann admonished the child for putting herself in danger and cut her off from ice cream sales for a while as a lesson.

The Barlettanis moved around the region a bit, from Idaho to an ostrich farm near Winnemucca to Virginia City where, Woody said, Ann started a poetry reading at the Red Dog Saloon and sold Western wear at The Old Red Garter. She also started a charity to help people who couldn’t afford their veterinary bills to care for pets. Ann was always a cat woman and while Woody could be quick to judge people — as any good cartoonist would be — she always gave people the benefit of the doubt. A person might be a real asshole in Woody’s eyes, but Ann would say, “She takes care of her cat real nice.”

The couple returned to Reno in the 1990s because Woody had some health problems. Then, one year, six months and 10 days ago, Ann suffered a perforated colon. She had to use a colostomy bag all the time and was very sick, requiring constant care. Seven months ago, she was diagnosed with stage four terminal cancer. During her illness, Woody rarely left her side.

He had help from Circle of Life Hospice in making sure his wife was as comfortable as she could be in her decision to stay home and not endure surgeries and treatments. To do so would prolong death, he said, not life. They even considered assisted suicide.

Ann’s condition got really bad about 10 days ago. She had been unconscious for a couple of days when, at about 4 a.m. Tuesday, Woody gave her one last dose of painkiller when she showed signs of labored breathing. He noticed she was getting cold and at 9 a.m she was gone.

During Ann’s decline, I spoke to Woody many times on the telephone. He was as upbeat and cheery as ever, though he got more serious when I asked about her. He called me Wednesday to tell me she died and I asked if he’d come talk to me about her. I knew when he arrived at the office because I could hear his harmonica start to waft through the building. He made his usual grand entrance, cracking jokes at everyone in his boisterous manner. He gladly recounted his memories of his wife with nary a crack in his voice and only a brief moment of redness in his eyes. He is happy she is no longer in pain. “She’s resting in peace,” he said, before getting up to leave. On his way out of the newsroom, he reminded me of our importance as the “Daily” Sparks Tribune, as he often does, and I could hear his harmonica fade away as he left the building. I’m sure Ann could hear it, too.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to raise my ice cream cone to Ann.

Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at norme@dailysparkstribune.com.
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