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Frances “Frannie” Marie Collins Reyes, ‘loyal friend’ and mother of 9, dies at 88

Updated: October 17, 2013 6:23AM

Frances “Frannie” Marie Collins Reyes, mother of nine, including two of Chicago’s wealthiest businessmen, named her closest college girlfriends “The Jolly Girls.”

Mrs. Reyes was a loyal adviser, listener and supporter of the fun-loving group for more than 65 years.

The girls went to the movies and hung out together while the men were away in World War II.

“She was the most loyal friend anyone could ever have,” said Patricia Davidson Whiteford, of Raleigh, N.C., one of the Jolly Girls at Dunbarton College of the Holy Cross in Washington, D.C., a now-defunct all-girls Catholic school.

Mrs. Reyes, a native of Washington, D.C., died at 88 at her home in Potomac, Md. She exuded a mature grace, modesty, generosity and loveliness, her friends recalled Sunday.

Her calm demeanor stood her in good stead as she and her husband, Joseph A. Reyes, had eight sons and one daughter. Their children include J. Christopher and Jude Reyes, who rank No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, on Forbes’ 2013 list of billionaires in the Chicago area as the executives of the family’s Reyes Holdings LLC food and beer distributorship.

“It was a high-spirited group of children, yet Mrs. Reyes was never rattled,” said Kate Whiteford Schneider, Patricia Whiteford’s daughter and a family friend. “She would just say, ‘Oh, now, boys, boys,’ even when things were crazy and active.”

Friends recalled attending the Reyes family’s yearly Christmas celebration in their large Colonial house in an Irish-Catholic neighborhood, where the atmosphere was always happy and welcoming.

Mrs. Reyes “was this beautiful person with this incredible smile and uncommon kindness,” said family friend Fran Moran, district manager for World Wide Technology Inc.

Mrs. Reyes also held her own in social circles with her husband of 61 years. With sons J. Christopher and M. Jude, Joseph A. Reyes co-founded the 14th-largest privately held company, Reyes Holdings, where he serves as chairman emeritus. The company owns the top beer wholesaler nationwide, Reyes Beverage Group, according to public records. The Chicago-based Reyes Holdings employs 15,000 and had $22 billion in yearly revenues in fiscal year 2012.

Mrs. Reyes “was well-read and really well-versed, whether it was in the political realm, foreign affairs or sporting events,” said Larry Mellinger of Earlysville, Va., who met the couple when he served as the U.S. executive director of the Inter-American Development Bank in the Reagan administration.

“She exuded traditional American values of home, church and community,” said Mellinger, who credited the Reyes family with introducing him to his wife, Claire. “She was very upright, and that’s one reason people respected her so much.”

Mrs. Reyes read two to three newspapers every day, had at least one book by her side at all times and maintained a keen interest in politics and world events, according to a remembrance provided by her family.

She passionately rooted for the Nationals, Redskins, Terps and Orioles. She enjoyed watching her sons play football under the coaching of her brother, Maus, at Archbishop Carroll and Gonzaga high schools, and seeing her grandchildren play soccer, lacrosse and Little League.

Mrs. Reyes was equally as active in church. She attended mass daily at St. Jane Frances de Chantal Catholic Church in Bethesda, Md.

She volunteered at the parish grade school when her children were young, making sure the school had a new stage or new curtains, school Principal Betsy Hamilton said.

A friend since high school, Mary Louise LeBlanc Sommerville, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Mississauga, Canada, said Mrs. Reyes was always there to reassure her that everything would be OK.

“You could spell ‘lady’ with capital letters 10 feet high” to define Mrs. Reyes, said Sommerville, a fellow student with Mrs. Reyes at Holy Cross Academy.

Other survivors include sons David , William, John, James andThomas; daughter Julia A. Reyes Taubman , and 23 grandchildren. Son Stephen is deceased.

Visitation will be from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Monday at St. Jane Frances de Chantal Catholic church, 9601 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda, Md.

A Catholic funeral mass will be held at St. Jane Frances de Chantal at 11 a.m. Tuesday, followed by a private interment.

A celebration of Mrs. Reyes’ life will be held after the funeral mass at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Congressional Country Club, 8500 River Rd., Bethesda, Md., where everyone is welcome to honor Mrs. Reyes’ memory.

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