They were always finding ways to help others.

Jay Bissonnette ran motorcycle raffles at the Bayside Lounge on Sconticut Neck Road in Fairhaven, and he donated proceeds to local charities. Marilyn Bissonnette helped with the fundraisers, and she was active at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in New Bedford’s North End, devoting her time to assisting those in need.

They worked together, played together and volunteered together. And after contracting COVID-19, they both died at St. Luke’s Hospital on April 2, 2020 – just three hours and 20 minutes apart. Jay was 78; Marilyn was 73.

“Marilyn died first so she could help him get to heaven. She was always trying to take care of him.”

Lee Bissonnette, son

Jay F. Bissonnette was born and raised in New Bedford and joined the Navy, serving on the USS Sheldrake in the North Atlantic for most of his four years in the military. He later worked as a welder, repairing fishing boats and then taking a job with New Bedford Gas and Electric Co., which later became NStar, then Eversource. Jay also managed some properties, and he bought the Bayside Lounge in 1985, said his son, Lee Bissonnette of Fairhaven.

That was a very tough bar, Lee Bissonnette said. But Jay was a tough guy, and he cleaned it up. “It was Jay’s way or the highway.” He renovated the entire place – from top to bottom, his son said. He put on a big addition and “he made that bar his home.”

Lee said you didn’t want to cross his father, but those who knew him understood that “he had a very, very big heart.”

Jay and Marilyn held benefits at the bar every year for various causes – the Kennedy-Donovan Center, the Animal Rescue League, the Fairhaven Improvement Association or the Schwartz Center, Lee Bissonnette said.

The Bissonnettes with children Lee and Paula.
From left, Lee, Marilyn, Paula and Jay Bissonnette.

As generous as his father was, Lee said his stepmother, Marilyn, was the heart of their relationship. “She took care of so many friends and family,” he said.

Lee Bissonnette recalled the story of a child with a hearing disability at St. Andrew’s Church. Marilyn went out of her way to help, Lee said. She paid for an interpreter to come in so the child could participate in church services.

Jay Bissonnette was divorced, and he and Marilyn met in the early 1980s, Lee said.

Marilyn (Heywood) Bissonnette was born in Acushnet and worked for 28 years at Compass Bank in New Bedford, retiring when the institution was sold in 2004. She also was a longtime bookkeeper for the New Bedford Port Society, and a devoted member of St. Andrew’s Church, where she served on the Altar Guild and was treasurer of special programs.

Jay and Marilyn had a beachfront house on Bayview Avenue in Fairhaven, where the couple sometimes hosted barbecues for family and friends, said Jay’s brother Andrew Woodacre of New Bedford. But Marilyn developed lung cancer, and the couple later moved to a small ranch house on Grape Street, Lee Bissonnette said.

Marilyn and Jay Bissonnette.

Marilyn was under Hospice care for stage 4 lung cancer when Jay became ill with COVID-19, Lee said. He had fallen and broken his hip when moving into the new home and had undergone multiple surgeries, including two hip replacements, Lee Bissonnette said. On the Sunday before he died, Jay had fallen three times, and there seemed to be something else that was wrong.

He was taken to St. Luke’s Hospital, where he was diagnosed with COVID-19, his son said. Doctors said he was not likely to last more than a day, but he lived four more days.

Marilyn, whose health had been rapidly declining, was taken to St. Luke’s hospital on Thursday morning, Lee Bissonnette said. She died at 3:30 p.m. that day from end-stage lung cancer with an underlying cause of COVID-19. Jay died three hours and 20 minutes later from acute respiratory failure caused by COVID-19 and pneumonia.

“Marilyn died first so she could help him get to heaven,” Lee Bissonnette said. “She was always trying to take care of him.”

The condolences published with obituary notices at Saunders-Dwyer Funeral Home showed that many people were influenced by the couple’s generosity.

One New Bedford woman, who signed in as “Karen,” wrote the following: “Your dad was very kind to me when I was a homeless teenager in the early ’80s. I always wished I could have run into him to thank him and let him know that I survived and became a good adult / mom and landlady and never forgot where I came from and I am saddened to learn of his passing but please find comfort in knowing that he made a difference in I’m sure, so many lives. He did in my life.”

Collage of New Bedford people who died in COVID pandemic featured in memorial.

We remember you.

As the city emerges from the long siege of COVID-19, we pause to take stock of what – and whom – we’ve lost. Please help build this community memorial by adding a tribute to your loved one.

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