Joseph Bevilacqua, 85, Little Compton


Joseph Bevilacqua, 85, passed away on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017,  at his home in Little Compton. Born October 20, 1931, to John and Grace Bevilacqua, he grew up in Elmira, NY. Joe graduated from Canisius College in 1952 and earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Buffalo in 1955.

Drafted into the Army in 1956, he was stationed at Fort Bragg , N.C., where he met his future wife, Mary Ann, an Army nurse; they married in 1958. He remained on active duty until 1971, and served as a reserve officer until 1986, when he retired as full colonel. Joe received his PhD in social policy and administration from Brandeis University in 1967.

After leaving active military duty, Joe became deputy commissioner for mental health in Virginia in 1971, which led to his ongoing work as an advocate on behalf of persons with mental illness.  In 1975 he became commissioner of mental health, retardation and hospitals in Rhode Island.  Under the leadership of Gov. Joseph Garrahy, Joe and a very dedicated staff began the challenging task of placing institutionalized individuals into community group homes. 

In 1981 he was hired as commissioner of mental health in Virginia, and in 1986 became director of mental health in South Carolina, serving under three governors, until 1996 .

In each of these positions, Joe was a pioneer in advocating for strong support of mental health consumers and their families, including creating paid roles for consumers in provider organizations, both public and private. He worked tirelessly for mental health parity legislation and was involved in numerous legal cases defending the civil rights of the institutionalized mentally ill.

The most outstanding of these was the Dixon Committee which, after years of litigation, brought much needed improvement for clients at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. In his last formal role he served as director of state initiatives at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law in Washington, DC.  He was twice elected president of the National Association of State Mental Health Commissioners, and served as a volunteer and board member for countless organizations around the nation. He was known as a giant in his field.

While passionate about his work, Joe was even more passionate about family and friends, and will be remembered by the many, many people he and Mary Ann befriended in the myriad cities they called home. After his retirement in 1998, he and Mary Ann settled in Little Compton where their house became a favorite gathering place for visiting children, grandchildren, and friends of all ages.

Befitting his Italian heritage, Joe was an avid gardener, an outstanding cook and baker (especially of bread), and an ardent appreciator of good food and wine - preferably at a table surrounded by loved ones. He and Mary Ann celebrated the 60th anniversary of their meeting this past New Year’s Eve.

In addition to Mary Ann, Joe is survived by daughter Christina; sons Michael, Dominic (Cristina Martín), and Anthony (Sue Mazzucco); grandchildren Justine (Emely), Mathew (Bianca), Carmine, Grace, and Nino, (and their mother, Therese Jungels), and Beatrice; brothers Mike (Yvonne), John, and Mark; and nieces and nephews.

Funeral services are private; a celebration of Joe’s life will be held this summer. Memorials may be made to the Southern Poverty Law Center, 400 Washington Avenue, Montgomery, AL 36104, or

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