Oct. 24, 1926 – March 17, 2020
Meeting a dashing – and persistent – World War II bomber pilot in Memphis in 1945 opened an entire world to 18-year-old Virginia Bishop of Aberdeen, Miss.
The pilot was Michael Amico, of Buffalo, who went on to become a Buffalo Police detective and official and Erie County Sheriff, as well as a co-founder of Valu Home Centers.
In Buffalo, Mrs. Amico immersed herself in charity work, aiding the Roman Catholic Church and helping oversee the philanthropic involvement of Valu Home Centers.
All her life, she kept her charming Southern accent and skill in Southern cooking.
Mrs. Amico, of Amherst, died March 17, 2020, in Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, where she had been a patient for just over a week. She was 93.
The oldest of five children of Ruby James and Grady Bishop in Aberdeen, she was born in east central Mississippi. She described her hometown as "rustic," said her granddaughter, Alicia Castiglione.
After graduating from Aberdeen High School in 1945, she worked as a secretary at the Valley Department Store in Vicksburg, then moved to Memphis, where her aunt and uncle lived, for a better job.
A tall redhead, she was riding the streetcar one day when she caught the eye of Michael Amico, a bomber pilot and uniformed Army Air Forces officer, said Castiglione. Addressing her as Red, he asked for her number.
She often told her family that, instead of her phone number, she gave him the number that people could call to get the correct time. An older lady in the next seat, recognizing the number, scolded her for deceiving "a soldier defending our country," Castiglione said.
But she still refused to share her number.
When she got off the streetcar, the pilot followed her, so she went to her uncle's house rather than her aunt's, where she was living. "She went in the front door and out the back door," said Castiglione, chuckling. But her uncle, impressed by the young man's military service, welcomed him in and happily pointed out the home where she was living.
When he saw Red again, Michael Amico, son of a large Buffalo Italian Catholic family, won her heart.
They were married on Nov. 24, 1945, in Vicksburg, Miss., a month after her 19th birthday.
They moved to Buffalo after his service commitment ended, although Mr. Amico remained in the Air Force Reserve until 1969, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Her father "cried forever" when she moved north, said Castiglione.
Mrs. Amico supported all her husband's endeavors, including working for the Buffalo Police Department, where he oversaw homicide, narcotics and special investigations units. He was Erie County Sheriff from 1969 to 1976.
When the family founded Valu Home Centers, a local chain of home improvement stores, in 1968, Mrs. Amico took a leadership role. Her family said the company's aid to Kids Escaping Drugs, Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army and Make-a-Wish was due to her advocacy.
After her husband died, on Sept. 6, 2015, Mrs. Amico became a member of the company's board of directors.
Mrs. Amico had a special interest in helping people in need and children. She was past chairwoman of an annual event aiding Girls Town of Italy and an early supporter of an orphanage in Italy.
She was active in the Western New York Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and served as the chair for its annual gala.
A devout Roman Catholic, Mrs. Amico was a longtime supporter of Christ the King Seminary and the charitable work of the Diocese of Buffalo, including Catholic Charities. She was a generous donor to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and Make-a-Wish of Western New York.
The Amicos were involved in Italian American associations nationally and locally.
The Amicos kept a winter home in Deerfield Beach, Fla., for about 40 years.
Mrs. Amico is survived by a daughter, Joanne Fontana; a sister, Barbara Traylor; three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
"Her favorite person was her son-in-law Tony; he visited her twice a day," Castiglione said.