In the Ohio Valley, relationships matter. And while Lady Gaga is not from the Ohio Valley, her grandparents Ronnie and Paul were from the Wheeling, WV area.
“Ronnie was our neighbor for many years and we loved her and Paul so much.”
And after Veronica “Ronnie” Bissett, grandmother of the pop superstar, died last week at 94, following her husband who died in 2013, hundreds of neighbors who knew her personally wrote remembrances of their friend, which I’m presenting here in bold.
“I’ve known Ronnie since she lived in McMechen, a real classy, fun lady.”
They recalled her life, from her birth 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.
Unlike her daughter who left to go to college and never returned, Bissett spent her entire life in and around Wheeling.
“I met your grandma one night at Figs restaurant while sitting next to her at the bar. I really enjoyed talking with her and joking around.”
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.
“She was a sweet person. Loved talking to her at the Wellness center. I called her GrandmaGaGa.”
Although people in the Ohio Valley appreciate Lady Gaga’s celebrity, they don’t relate to her as much as another local star, Brad Paisley. But they love how much Bissett loved her family.
“I knew Ronnie and her husband Paul as a child, when Gaga’s mom and I were dance mates. I was often an overnight guest at their home in McMechen, and loved them dearly.”
This month, the Ohio Valley lost another member of the Greatest Generation who lived by hard work and old-fashioned values.
“Ronnie and Paul were the best of people and raised the best of families, I am fortunate to know and be friends with their son Doug daughters Cindy and Sherri. Ronnie and Paul were so proud of all their children and grandchildren.”
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.
“I did her hair several times when her stylist wasn’t available. Ronnie was a ‘sweetie pie’ and the world shines a little less without her.”
John W. Miller