In Memory

Bissell ’61: A Life of Service to the Institute

Retired Brig. Gen N. Mike Bissell ’61, former commandant of the Corps of cadets, died Feb. 7, 2019. Bissell also served as special assistant to the superintendent for the assimilation of women into VMI and founding commandant of cadets for the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership.

A decorated combat veteran, Bissell served two tours in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot. He was nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor and received, among many service awards, the Distinguished Service Cross. He is among the most highly decorated graduates of the Institute.

He was the commander of the 17th Aviation Group and commander of the Joint U.S. Army and Republic of Korea Army Aviation Corps in Korea and served as the director of U.S. Army Flight Training and Acting Chief of Staff of the 101st Airborne Division.

After retiring from the Army, Bissell returned to VMI in 1990, serving as VMI’s commandant until 1994 and subsequently served as special assistant to the superintendent. In that role, he was instrumental in working through the legal and institutional challenges surrounding the inclusion of women in the Corps, including the founding of the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership at Mary Baldwin University. He became the commandant of cadets for VWIL in 1999 and served in that position for 18 years.

“Mike Bissell was a special person,” said Gen. J.H Binford Peay III ’62, superintendent. “He devoted his entire life to service in uniform to his country and to the commonwealth: He was distinguished in combat, he demonstrated efficiency of character and service in demanding leadership roles, he was passionate and tireless in his work for his beloved VMI and the Class of 1961, and he was steadfast in forming the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership at Mary Baldwin. He was one of the most caring, thoughtful and sensitive men I have known. He will be missed. Our thoughts are with his Jan, their children and their families.”

A resolution passed by the VMI Board of Visitors in 2014 praised him for his exemplary service.

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