Vail Valley icon Don Bissett’s big life to be celebrated Saturday
If You Go ...
What: Celebration of Don Bissett’s life.
When: 4 p.m. Saturday, June 10.
Where: Edwards Interfaith Chapel, 32138 U.S. Highway 6, Edwards.
More information: Following the service, friends and family are invited to stay for appetizers and a time of sharing. In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to a college fund for Joshua at First Bank or to one of the following charities: Roundup River Ranch, for children affected by serious illnesses, or Coral Reef Alliance, for conservation and protection of the world’s coral reefs.
EDWARDS — Dr. Marita Bledsoe’s dog introduced her to her future husband, Don Bissett, on an East Vail hiking trail, the one up there that we think leads to Gore Lake.
She was hiking uphill and her dog accidentally pulled her into a stump. She was post-holing through the snow and let the dog off the leash (and yes, she knows that’s never a good idea. She’s a doctor, so chances are she’s smarter than most of us).
The dog apparently developed a sudden and total loss of hearing and didn’t even break stride as it bounded back down the trail. She returned before long, with Bissett in tow.
“She ran down the trail and came back up the trail with Don,” Bledsoe said.
And that, as they say, was that.
Friends and family will gather at the Edwards Interfaith Chapel at 4 p.m. Saturday to remember how much Bissett loved them.
He was a big, happy guy and loved people in a big way.
“Everyone you talk to calls him the Gentle Giant,” Bledsoe said.
On the Vail Ski School Facebook page, people refer to him as “one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.”
‘Voice of God’
And he had that voice: huge, deep and resonate with a touch of a Texas twang revealing his Lone Star roots.
Bledsoe, his wife of many years, is the Roundup River Ranch camp physician, so Bissett was a regular at camp events. That’s where he picked up his “Voice of God” moniker.
He understood the Roundup River Ranch campers and loved being out there. He battled Type 1 diabetes, so he knew what the campers were going through.
“He understood how the kids felt, because he dealt with a chronic illness,” Bledsoe said.
Jerry McMahan has been Unity’s pastor for 25 years and knew Bissett about as well as anyone.
“He was a great personal friend and great guy. He was fun to be with and a great outdoorsman,” McMahan said.
The list of Bissett’s attributes is long, including being Mister Mom and looking after Marita and their son, Joshua.
“Joshua was the light of his life,” Bledsoe said. “He often said he was proud to be the father of such an amazing kid.”
That’s a common sentiment among dads, and true in Bissett’s case.
Bissett started his career as a Baptist minister. Legend has it that he used to say he wasn’t angry enough to be a Baptist. Eventually, his calm temperament led him to become a Unitarian.
Actually, he started life on a ranch in Kenedy, Texas, south of San Antonio. He took the circuitous route to life as a Vail ski instructor and brought a few of those ranch skills with him.
There was the time he was chatting with some clients in Vail Village when one of the horses hauling a wagon broke loose and started galloping through town. Bissett stepped in front of the horse with his arms stretched out wide. He let fly with his best God voice and hollered “whoa.” The horse stopped right in its tracks.
He was an itinerate minister for Unitarian congregations across the region. The past 12 years, he performed ministerial services around the area and was a part-time minister with Unity of the Mountains in Edwards. He officiated hundreds of weddings at scores of locations in the Vail Valley.
Bissett also did social services at Vail Valley Medical Center for more than 15 years, performing mental health evaluations, among other things.
He went to the Texas Research Institute of Mental Sciences, was a licensed pastoral counselor and ran the Vail Valley Center for Relational Healing. He went back to being a full-time ski instructor three years ago.
“He loved the fact that he got better every year. He loved that he got feedback from his supervisors about what he could work on and what he did well,” Bledsoe said.
Bissett is survived by his wife, Marita Bledsoe; daughter, Betsy Bissett; son, Joshua Bissett; grandson, Aidan Smith and his extended family and friends.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and email@example.com.
Paul Cuthbertson set out by himself around 3 p.m. Friday from the trailhead that leads up to the Polar Star Inn, according to his father, Mike, but never made it to the popular backcountry hut as a late-spring snowstorm moved in.