Long-time and beloved Columbia resident Vivian C. “Millie” Bailey, a dedicated public servant and philanthropist, died peacefully at her home on May 1, 2022 surrounded by family and friends. She was 104 years young.
Affectionately known as “Millie,” she was born in Washington D.C. on February 3, 1918 and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She graduated as the valedictorian of Booker T. Washington High School and worked for eight years in the Tulsa area as a stenographer and medical records clerk.
Millie entered the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, later known as the Women's Army Corps, in December 1942 and served until January 1946. She was stationed at Fort McClellan, Alabama and then Fort Benning, Georgia serving as the Unit Commander of the Women's Detachment #2. Despite the added challenges of serving in the military during a segregated era, she wore her uniform proudly and walked with dignity navigating the challenges while serving in the deep South. She earned the admiration and respect of her superiors and subordinates. Promoted to First Lieutenant, Millie’s intelligence, attention to detail, and moral courage served her well. Nominated to attend the Adjutant General’s School at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, her only non-segregated posting, she was honorably discharged and earned the Women's Army Corps Service Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal and a Letter of Commendation.
After the war, Millie moved to Chicago where she worked for the Veterans Administration and later the Social Security Administration (SSA). In 1970, she and her husband William “Bill” Harrison Bailey, moved to Maryland where she continued to work for the SSA and they both became active Howard County residents. Millie was drawn to and thrived in Columbia, a visionary community that reflected her world view of embracing all people. When she retired from the SSA in 1975, Millie was a Division Director managing over 1,100 employees. She attended both DePaul University in Chicago and the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
She did not slow down after retiring. Highlights of her more than 50 years of volunteer service include: the longest serving member of the Howard County General Hospital Board of Trustees (23 years); the Howard County Police Department Citizens Advisory Council (26 years); and governor-appointed positions including a Judicial Nominating Commission for Howard County and the Maryland Health Resources Planning Commission. She was renownedfor her thoroughness, exacting nature and shrewd assessments.
One of Millie’s long-standing passions was honoring and supporting deployed service members through her care package program affectionately known as “Bailey's Bundles.” Millie sent her first care package during the Vietnam War and continued this program to the present day. She engaged an army of bakers at the ready for her Cookie Call so she could include homemade cookies for the troops. In 2021 alone, Bailey’s Bundles mailed roughly 230 boxes weighing 1,900 pounds at a cost of $2,700.
Millie believed strongly in supporting the next generation and did so by raising money for in-need elementary schools in Howard County funding field trips and other initiatives to enrich children's educational experiences. The kids and staff called her their “Guardian Angel”. Millie’s belief that we should do something nice for others every day carries on the tradition of community involvement and activism she saw in her mother. She often quoted Jackie Robinson, who said, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
Illustrative of just how many lives Millie has touched, she was the recipient of numerous awards and citations. She received: Towson University’s “Distinguished Black Marylanders Award”, “Maryland’s Top 100 Women”, Maryland State Governor’s Citations for her lifelong contributions, a Congressional Achievement for her many years of public service from the late Congressman Elijah Cummings, and the President's Lifetime Achievement Award for lifelong commitment to building a stronger nation through volunteer service. She especially cherished a flag flown in her honor during an active duty refueling mission over the United Arab Emirates on a KC-10 “Extender” to support Operation Inherent Resolve. Four powerful honors keeping her legacy of service alive are: renaming an award given by the Howard County Police Department, presented on her 100th birthday, as the Vivian “Millie” Bailey Making a Difference Award; the dedication of the Vivian C. “Millie” Bailey Neighborhood Square at the site of the Howard County Veterans Monument; and her philanthropy enabled the dedication of the Vivian C.“Millie” and William Harrison Bailey cafeteria at Howard County General Hospital and the Howard Community College Food Pantry.
Millie’s roots ran deep in the local community with volunteerism, civic activism and worship at the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia. She was fun-loving with an adventurous spirit exploring the world enriching her with many cultural experiences. When she checked skydiving off her bucket list at the age of 102, she defied expectations yet again and boldly proved one can break barriers and try new things at any age.
Millie wove into her life’s tapestry a treasure trove of exceptional and beloved family and friends of all ages and all walks of life. She had exacting expectations, and she also loved deeply, had a giving heart, and a sharp sense of humor. She cherished her time spent with the American Legion and her many meals with friends.
To know Millie is to love, admire, and respect her. She was a pioneer lighting the way for subsequent generations inspiring community leadership. Millie's simple challenge taught us to give back to our communities. As she said, “even small contributions put together can make a big difference.”
She is survived by her niece Mildred Gayle Blocker who has two daughters as well as aloving and beloved “adopted family”: Dr. Stephen Kelly and Dr. Maryanne Cordahl - son and daughter; Ken and Julie Girardini - grandchildren; Martin Johnson - nephew; Helen Yvonne Johnson - niece. Cherished friends Liz Bobo and Lloyd Knowles, Rebecca Norlander, Kimberley and Kevin McGill and Captain Wanda Riddle USN (ret), as well as countless other friends. Her family acknowledges and thanks all who expressed so much love and support throughout her life.
She is preceded in death by her husband, William Harrison Bailey, her mother Leona Bell Corbett and her sister Dr. Ione T. Corbett Morrison.
Her chosen final resting place is the Calvary Cemetery in Tulsa, Oklahoma beside her beloved husband, sister and mother.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Hanover Hills Elementary School, Howard Community College - The Vivian C. “Millie” and William Harrison Bailey Food Pantry (checks made payable to: HCCEF - Food Pantry), or the Community Action Council -William Bailey Memorial Fund, to support housing, energy or other essentials for Howard County families in need (checks made payable to Community Action Council with the note designating The William Bailey Memorial Fund.)