Gina Maria Lessa
May 27, 1919 – March 19, 2021
Gina Maria Milano Lessa was born in East Harlem on May 27, 1919. She was the fourth child of Louis and Michelina Milano and she grew up in a tenement on 101st Street, where she was surrounded by a cacophony of cultures and languages that was the East Side of Manhattan in those days. She was a parishioner at St. Cecilia’s Church and she attended public elementary school. One of her memories of her days in public school was the steam heat in the winter, a blessing for someone who lived in a building where heat was somewhat unreliable. Her time in public school was shortened as she skipped several grades and graduated early. Her father worked for the Transit Authority, and her mother was a seamstress. Her family struggled financially, but they always managed to get by. She attended Julia Richmond High School and graduated at 16 years of age. At Julia Richmond she excelled in her school work, and was a truly gifted young lady. She wanted to attend Hunter College, but in 1935 society plotted different roles for women and she wound up having to work to help support her family. An incredible waste of academic talent, but she resolved to do the best she could and always retained her love of learning and reading. She began working for a dentist and soon was running the entire office. She met the love of her life at that dental office and married Nicola Lessa on December 17, 1944 at St. Cecilia’s Church. They continued to live in Harlem in an apartment on 105th Street and Second Avenue, where Nick had a business and that is where they welcomed their first son, John. After some financial setbacks Nick took a position as a steward for the Mobil Oil Company’s oil tanker fleet, and by that time the family had two sons with the birth of their second son, Bill. As they outgrew their one-bedroom apartment, they decided to move to the Bronx where Gina’s mother and father had moved earlier in 1951. By 1952 Nick and Gina moved to the Bronx, first in an apartment and later at the house they lived in for over 40 years on Holland Avenue in the Morris Park Section (of the Bronx). Nick spent many years working as a merchant marine and was often away for months at a time, leaving Gina with three children following the birth of a daughter Regina in 1952. Gina did it all - shop, cook, clean, attend parent meetings, school plays, little league games and so many other events. It was truly an amazing task. In 1960 a second daughter, Judi, was born and Gina was still doing it all. The family lived a block away from Our Lady of Solace Church and school, and all of their children attended Our Lady of Solace School. Education was very important to Gina and she made sure that all of her children would have the best education that the family could provide. She worked with all of her children every night on each assignment and project and they were always prepared for school. Early morning would find her quizzing everyone before they left and making sure that nothing was left to chance. Gina got her wish as all of her children were successful students, and all of them graduated from college and several hold advanced degrees. Gina was also a great homemaker and a superb cook. If you visited her house, you had to eat something before you could leave. Her friends and neighbors were always in her house enjoying Gina’s fine Italian cuisine, canning tomatoes or making grape jelly. She always found time to cook a meal for the nuns in the convent and the priests in the rectory as her way of thanking them for all they did for the parish and the school. Gina loved her husband and children and demonstrated that love each and every day of her life. She took the role of wife and mother as her calling and dedicated every ounce of energy to that vocation. Her love for God was shown each and every day, and she always trusted in God and her beloved St. Jude. With the death of her husband in 1995, Gina moved to Crestwood with Regina where she would spend 24 years. While broken-hearted by the loss of her husband, Gina made the most out of the move and adjusted well to her new surroundings and life in Westchester. Gina was profoundly saddened by the sudden and unexpected loss of her son John, who died of a brain tumor on her birthday in 2005. Gina managed to persevere and despite knee surgery and, later, open heart surgery when she was 95 years old, she was still a beacon of strength to her family. As a result of complications with her heart surgery, she was never able to walk again. She never let that impede her as she continued to rule the roost from her wheelchair. She never complained about her situation and thanked God every day for having survived the surgery. She continued to read, and was a fan of classic movies and forensic science shows. Gina’s life was one of faith, love, and dedication. She was amazing as she reached her nineties and beyond and could still tell you what a pickle cost in 1925, and at the same time what her thoughts were on the election of 2020. She lived through the pandemic unscathed and managed to even sign up for her immunization. Gina was an incredible and amazing woman and her legacy will not soon be forgotten. Gina was a woman of great faith in her God. She was a woman of great resolve and perseverance and a tower of strength to her family. We will all miss her, but her spirit will endure and live forever in our hearts. At the age of 101 approaching 102, it was time for her to be called home to her heavenly reward, and she left us peacefully and with her family around her. While we were all grateful to have had her for so long, we are equally devastated by her loss. She was a magnificent women, a loving and devoted wife, a wonderful and nurturing mother, an exceptional grandmother and great-grandmother, but most of all she was a women who lived her faith each and every day of her life in a simple but beautiful manner. Gina leaves behind her three children, Bill and his wife Mary Anne, Regina, and Judi and Gerry Mastroianni, her husband. She also leaves behind four grandchildren: Bill Jr and his wife Elyse and two great grandchildren Lydia Joy and Luke Gordon; Jaime Deppert and her husband Andrew and two great- grandchildren, Collette Grey and Grant Hayes; Nicole Flannery and her husband Michael and her youngest grandson, Gerald Mastroianni.
Cardinal Hayes High School Development Department
650 Grand Concourse, Bronx, New York 10451
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
Gina Maria Lessa
March 22, 2021
Gina Maria Lessa was my aunt and godmother. She was a remarkable, smart, funny, loving woman. I will miss her.
During the 1920’s and 30’s it was customary (although unthinkable today) for schools to insist that children’s names be Anglicized and she was advised as a very young child that she would henceforth be known as “Janet”. She was known as Janet for many years, but later decided to return to her rightful name.
She was always up on the news and very much aware of the current cultural scene. For many years, although she was sometimes embarrassed to admit it, she was a devotee of the t.v. soap opera The Young and the Restless. She told me at age 90 that it would have been more appropriate for her to be watching a show called The Ancient and the Infirm!
My aunt was the fiercest of “Mama Bears” when it came to her kids. She loved them beyond measure. She was proud—as well she should have been--to be the matriarch of a large, beautiful and loving family. She was forever changed by the loss of her beloved husband and older son, but she was thrilled by the births of her four great-grandchildren.
Gina was a wonderful cook and loved preparing large feasts for family and friends to enjoy in her home. Her dinners had five courses and they were typically spectacular. She insisted on only the very best—often imported—ingredients. When disability prevented her from cooking, she delighted in teaching others, even her devoted caregivers, how to prepare her wonderful Italian recipes.
While other family members, neighbors and friends may have spoken with a NYC twang, Gina had perfect diction and spoke without accent, a trait she attributed to her elocution teacher at Julia Richmond High School. Family members would tease that she spoke like the Queen of England.
My aunt lived her life as we should all aspire to do, spending her time and energy in congruence with her values. She was a wonderful example for us all. Sending love to all the family.
March 21, 2021
64 years ago, at the age of 10, as I was walking home from school with Billy and John from Our Lady of Solace, Mrs. Lessa would invite me in to eat. Her Italian food was so good that I rarely, after that, got home in time to eat my mom’s food. LOL! Mrs. Lessa was the best and it is one of my very special memories of her..! God Bless her ..!