Mary Jo Silcox Bills was born in the family car on a frigid January morning in 1937. There was no holding her back! Improvising at the roadside, her father Kenneth helped her mother Roberta deliver Mary Jo under an overpass. Her harrowing birth was reported in the Salt Lake Telegram, making her instantly famous as Salt Lake County’s “Snow Baby.” For the first eight years of her life, the Telegram celebrated the Snow Baby’s birthday with an update article, including news of Ken and Roberta’s second freezing-weather, in-the-car delivery of Mary Jo’s little sister, Nancy, in January 1944.
As a child, Mary Jo could always be found following her father around the pasture and barnyard of their small family farm. They were great pals and Mary Jo learned about animals, life, hard work and kindness from doing chores with her dad. In his last years, she was there to care for and comfort him.
She grew up in Riverton and met her future eternal companion, Ray Bills, while they were still in elementary school. The family always loved it when Mom and Dad would share funny stories about their early years, including the time when Ray broke Mary Jo’s nose by driving into a fence post, an accident that brought Roberta’s wrath down on Ray with threats that he’d never be allowed to date her again.
While attending Riverton Junior High, Mary Jo was a cheerleader and a majorette in the school band. She could twirl a baton with the best of them! Even years later, she could “wow” her grandkids with her baton skills.
Ray and Mary Jo were destined to be a couple from the start and married in January 1953, just a week and a few days after her 16th birthday. They were later sealed in the Salt Lake Temple. Their eldest son, Wayne, came 10 months later, followed by Kent (1955), Dale (1957), Mark (1965) and the “caboose,” Tom (1967).
In their student years and on into Ray’s army career, Ray and Mary Jo were nomads, moving many times around the country. They left Riverton for Logan, so Ray could pursue studies in agronomy at Utah State University. After finishing a master’s degree at USU, they were off to Pullman, Washington, where Ray earned a doctorate at Washington State University. Then came all the new adventures of Ray’s military career in Texas, Utah, Alabama, New York, Kansas and Virginia. In each new place she found herself, Mary Jo quickly made friends and found ways to serve and fit in. She served in the Church, got involved with her sons’ activities, and got to know new places and people. For a farm girl from tiny Riverton, Utah, she learned to thrive in any environment. And no matter where they were living, when Ray was deployed apart from his family to far-away assignments in Vietnam and to Johnston Atoll in the Pacific, Mary Jo came home to Riverton and was supported by friends and family. After retiring from the army, they moved briefly back to Utah, then were off again to Columbus, Ohio, where Ray worked with Battelle Laboratories. When Battelle assigned Ray to work at Tooele Army Depot in 1996, their nomad years came to an end, and they’ve enjoyed being back home in Utah among family and friends ever since.
Mary Jo’s passions in life were relationships, her family, and friends. She was unfailingly loyal to family and cared for them all with a deep love and nurturing spirit. She took care of her parents, her siblings, her kids, their kids, neighbors, people who were hurting – everyone! She was a keen observer of her family and if, while visiting, she noticed that anyone needed something, it would turn up soon in a birthday or Christmas package. No wonder, then, that she loved her “Mama Jo” and “Grandma Jo” nicknames.
Mama Jo taught us to love good, homecooked food. Her family dinners were legendary and some of the family’s favorite foods came from Ray and Mary Jo’s penny-pinching, graduate-student lean years: “Oh Boy Casserole” and “Spam Casserole” (an acquired taste!). Her pumpkin chocolate chip cookie recipe is at the top of four generations of Bills kids’ “comfort food” lists. She also loved eating out. There were many evenings at her favorite Mexican restaurant, El Farol’s in Midvale, where she was known and loved, and they always set aside a homemade flan when they saw her come in the door. And who can forget all those dinners at Olive Garden!
Mary Jo was also an artist with wide and varied talents. She did ceramics, wooden plaques, oil painting, sewing, quilting, cake decorating, and many kinds of crafts. Her home is filled with her artwork. She had the most delicate touch with a paintbrush, and we all have been blessed by her talents.
In her later years, Mary Jo became quite the world traveler. She went to Europe to visit grandkids and to travel with Ray when he went to various meetings in Switzerland and Scotland! She and Ray also loved traveling all over the world on cruise ships, from Alaska to Australia.
One of her most memorable travels was a trip to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, riding on mules! As a girl, she enjoyed learning from her dad to be a horsewoman and that experience served her well astride a mule on the winding path to the bottom of the canyon and back.
No matter how far she travelled, she always loved to come home to the Salt Lake Valley with views of her favorite mountain, Mt. Timpanogos. She loved going for rides up the canyon to see the leaves change and was especially delighted when a moose or deer or any other wild animal obliged and stood still for her to admire and snap a picture.
It’s impossible to sum up a life well-lived in only a few paragraphs, but if we could describe Mary Jo in one word, it would be: love. Mary Jo loved life and loved her family fiercely. She left us with that legacy of love and a determination to love like she did and to persist to the end. She is survived by her husband of 68 years, Ray, sister Nancy (Bill), brother Neal (Beth) and five sons: Wayne (Mary Ann), Kent (Anne), Dale (Becky), Mark (Britt), Tom (Anna) , 25 grandkids, 36 great-grandchildren and one fat cat, Lucy.
She will be greatly missed, but we can see with eyes of faith a glorious reunion with her parents, Roberta and Kenneth, her brother Carl, her sister Sally, and the sister she never got to meet, Anne Roberta. She is also being welcomed home by grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and family loved ones she has missed for years. There’s a party going on in heaven!
Our heartfelt gratitude to all of Mary Jo’s caregivers. We cannot say enough about the capable, loving people at Legacy House of South Jordan – administrators, staff (including our own Britt Bills), nurses and especially the CNAs – who smiled, joked, laughed, and cried with Mary Jo and cared so much for her over the past two years, who helped her cope with her diminished body and find friends in a place she never expected to be. Mary Jo’s “girls” at Legacy were dear to her heart (and ours). Thanks also to Canyon Home Care & Hospice who provided essential services as Mary Jo prepared to leave this world.
A viewing will be held on Thursday, September 2, 2021, from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM at the River 10th Ward at 1570 West 11400 South in South Jordan. The funeral service will be at 11:00 on Friday, September 3rd, at the River 10th Ward chapel, with a viewing before the service from 10:00 AM – 10:45 AM. Burial will be in the Riverton City Cemetery.
The funeral will be available online at: https://rebrand.ly/river10thsacramentmeeting or call (669) 900- 9128. Meeting ID: 836 6454 9073#Read More