On Thursday afternoon, May 25th, Gary Bryan Alphonse Bisson of Winchester, Virginia died peacefully from complications of pancreatic cancer at his home on the campus of Shenandoah Valley’s Westminister-Canterbury. Gary was born in Gorham, New Hampshire on June 28, 1936, the younger of two sons born to Antonio (Tony) Bisson and his wife, Alice (Philippon). He attended local schools, graduated from the University of New Hampshire and earned two law degrees from George Washington University, an LLB (now referred to as a JD) and an LLM in Government Contracting.
For more than 50 years, Gary worked for the Federal Government or with organizations serving U.S. interests here and abroad, beginning with a part-time job at the Library of Congress’s Central Reading Desk during law school. He then became the Smithsonian Institution’s first in-house attorney with responsibilities for legislation and contracting. When the Office of General Counsel was inaugurated in 1964, he was named one of two Assistant General Counsels. Gary’s tenure during the 1960s coincided with a decade of extensive growth for the Institution. He drafted legislation creating the Hirshhorn Museum, the National Air & Space Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, a major expansion of the National Zoo, and several other unique facilities for what is America’s most iconic museum group. Following were almost seven years with his family in Asia as Assistant General Counsel in Taipei and Bangkok for CIA’s proprietary corporation, Air America, and its affiliated entities, traveling almost constantly to negotiate and administer the company’s military and civilian contracts in Vietnam and neighboring countries. As the last of the lawyers in the field, he was instrumental in closing down the entire Southeast Asian operation following the fall of Saigon. His vast collection of records, files and memorabilia is available among the CAT/Air America archives at the University of Texas @ Dallas’s History of Aviation Collection in the Eugene McDermott Library.
Gary’s Federal service concluded with 20 years of assignments within the General Counsel’s office of the Agency for International Development (USAID). International postings included Kenya, Swaziland, and Indonesia, all as the Regional Legal Advisor to USAID’s area Mission Directors and staff offices, contracting for and administering Federal grants, cooperative agreements and claims resolutions. In addition to foreign assignments, he also traveled extensively on temporary assignments, often to remote locations where our U.S. presence was minimal. When asked recently about projects which had been particularly memorable, he cited drafting the preparatory Executive Order and then serving as attorney for the Sinai Procurement Task Force working under Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s mandate to establish a permanent peacekeeping community in the Sinai Desert following the 1973 Yom Kippur War. That community became a separate government unit and was one of the critical steps leading to the Camp David Accords. Another unusual effort was as principal negotiator and USAID representative for the government’s delegation working with industry representatives to negotiate a funding agreement for a U.S.-South Pacific Tuna Treaty governing international maritime fishing law. Also among his most significant accomplishments was drafting/negotiating a series of economic agreements which established the first U.S. assistance programs in Cambodia, Mongolia, Mozambique and Fiji. In 1994, he retired from USAID as a member of the Senior Foreign Service. Upon completion of his U.S. Government career, Gary’s passports reflected residence in or professional travel to 37 different countries as small as the Seychelles and Fiji to as large as South Africa and Egypt.
In 1994, Gary then began a private law practice in Arlington, VA, specializing in development law, always in the field of government contracts, advising corporate and academic clients contracted, usually by USAID, to implement foreign assistance programs, primarily in Asia and Africa. He retired from private practice in 2006. For almost 10 years, Gary served as Corporate Secretary and most recently as Vice Chair on the Board for Medical Care Development, Inc., an international health care non-profit based in Augusta, ME. He was a 50+ year member of the Virginia Bar Association and, during Federal Service, he held a District of Columbia Bar Association membership. He had also served for some years on the Board of Directors of USAID’s Lafayette Federal Credit Union (Kensington, MD). Gary was an active member of the Air America Association, DACOR, Inc. (Diplomats & Consular Officers Retired), UAA (USAID Alumni Association), and AFIO (Association of Former Intelligence Officers). Since he and his wife moved to Shenandoah Valley Westminster-Canterbury from Arlington in 2010, Gary has chaired the committee which publishes an annual History project, has served on the Residents’ Association Nominating Committee and has corralled SVWC’s golfers for their weekly rounds at nearby Rock Harbor Golf Course. And he was an enthusiastic participant with SVWC friends in weekly poker and pool groups, too.
Gary Bisson was a humble man, admired by his colleagues for his professional integrity and good counsel, a steadfast and loyal friend who was full of patience and wit. He cherished his wife of almost 57 years, Ellen (Knowles), and was a loving father and grandfather to Mark (Arlington, VA), Todd and Dante (both of Los Angeles). Older brother, Barry, predeceased him in May 2016. He is also survived by his sister-in-law, Marie, nieces Gigi and Mimi and nephew Tony, all of California, along with his many Bisson and Philippon relatives throughout New England. In addition to being devoted to his family, Gary was a proud member of the Red Sox Nation his entire life. Go Sox!
A remembrance celebration service is being planned for later in the summer. The family suggests that gifts in Gary’s memory would be deeply appreciated by George Washington University Law School/Government Procurement Law Program (2000 H Street, NW, Washington, DC 20052).