Veronica “Ronnie” Bissett, a child of the Ohio Valley, and grandmother of pop superstar Lady Gaga, died last week at Wheeling Hospital in Wheeling, WV. She was 94.
Bissett was born on Feb. 2, 1928, in Benwood, WV, at a time when the Ohio Valley was one of the main commercial, manufacturing and trade arteries in the entire world, a place where factories made toys, cars and even airplanes, as we documented in our PBS film Moundsville.
Bissett was the daughter of Italian-Americans, Vincent and Minnie Campana Ferrie. Her husband Paul D. Bissett, Sr., a legendary Ohio Valley singer we profiled on this site, died on March 31, 2013. She was one of seven children, with three brothers — Peter and Lawrence Ferrie and Emil Isopo, and four sisters — Julie Isopo, Angelina Sforza, Arnesta “Arnie” Tomasetti, and Pasqualina “Pat” Pretzello.
Ronnie and Paul’s children included P. Douglas Bissett, Cynthia Germanotta and Sheri Cates. She also had four children and four greatgrandchildren. One of them was Stefani, who became Lady Gaga, who was Cynthia’s daughter after she left the Ohio Valley for college at West Virginia University in Morgantown and then New York City, one of many seeking brighter fortunes as factories left and economic conditions declined after the 1970s and 1980s.
But as famous as Lady Gaga is — and let’s be real, she is really, really, really famous — Bissett’s life was not defined by her granddaughter. In Glen Dale, WV, Moundsville’s sister town, she was her own person.
Sure, there was the occasional excitement when Lady Gaga was spotted in the area, but overall neighbors protected Bissett’s privacy and made sure she could live a life defined by her marriage, her family, her friends, and her service to her community and her church, St. Matthew’s Episcopal.
Bissett belonged to an older generation that had gotten luckier than today’s with the economy and the country, and also her generation made the most of it. People like Bissett earned the respect they received. In our film, we wanted to capture the spirit of that generation, as well as the resilience of those that have come after it, and the wisdom older people have passed along.
In difficult times, for example, Bissett would tell her family members to “pick yourself up”, advice she offered to Lady Gaga during a crisis in her life and career. Now, with their beloved matriarch gone, that’s what her family and community will have to do.
John W. Miller