“The Mary Baldwin family remembers and honors Gen. Bissell as a paragon of service, leadership, and respect,” said MBU President Pamela R. Fox. “From the very beginning, he was absolutely critical to the establishment and growth of the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership at Mary Baldwin. His legacy can be found in the success of the VWIL corps today and in the achievements of each and every one of its alumnae.”
Bissell’s sense of duty and respect served as perhaps the greatest influence upon his cadets, many of whom touted those characteristics as among the greatest gifts Mary Baldwin offered them.
“He and [Founding Director of VWIL] Dr. [Brenda] Bryant were mentors for us,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Trimble Spitzer ’99, division director of the reproductive endocrinology and infertility division at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth. Spitzer was among the inaugural VWIL graduates. “He was not just a leader and a father figure, he was a mentor. And in every aspect of our careers, I think that all of us in the military can attribute our success in some way to him.”
His care for the future of those under his charge was a defining characteristic to many of the earliest VWIL cadets — like Spitzer — who entered Mary Baldwin in 1995. Praise for Bissell was immediate and widespread among MBU alumni, along with ready acknowledgments of the role he played in so many lives.
“He’s probably the single biggest influencer of my career,” said Lt. Col. Sherri Sharpe ’99. “He was the standard bearer for respect and professionalism and how to treat other people. My own leadership is modeled after what he demonstrated for us. He had such respect for us and wanted us to succeed; he was invested in every one of us.”
“He taught us the right way to do things, the right way to be a leader,” Karen Bailey-Chapman ’99 agreed.
Some of these habits — both serious and lighthearted — have remained with these former cadets for more than 20 years into their careers.
“I spent four years around him and I’ve spent 20 years away, but to this day I can’t walk on grass,” Sharpe laughed. “Because I hear him in my head, I see his face. He would be so disappointed in me if I walk on this grass. I’m a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army, and I can’t walk on the grass, I use the sidewalk.”
Bailey-Chapman brings Bissell’s lessons on punctuality to her civilian work as senior vice president for political affairs for the American Beverage Association.
“All my staff at work know,” she said, “that if you’re not five minutes early you’re late.”