Vivian C. “Millie” Bailey, a World War II veteran who served in the Army as unit commander during segregation and later worked for the Social Security Administration and as a Howard County community activist, died of a stroke Sunday in her home at Vantage Point residences in Columbia. She was 104.
“Millie was a wonderful friend and a great community activist here in Howard County,” said former Howard County Executive Elizabeth Bobo, a close friend for more than four decades.
“She was a person who absolutely loved life and was very clear in her opinions having served in the military, and I never saw her treat anyone with disrespect. She was just an all-around good and loving human being,” said Ms. Bobo, who later served in the House of Delegates. “When I became county executive, I was a controversial county executive, and she’d invite me over to her home once a week and we’d sit in wing-backed chairs facing one another. She never told me what to do politically, but she gave me support and human advice.”
Julie Girardini, a Sykesville artist, was a friend of Mrs. Bailey’s for 35 years.
“Millie certainly had a wonderful eye for collecting people of great character who were very able, and she was a good judge of character,” Ms. Girardini said. “Her superpower was collecting people close to her, and she loved the local political scene and being involved with people making positive decisions. She wanted to make Howard County a better place,” Ms. Girardini said.
In a statement, Victor A. Broccolino, former president and CEO of Howard County General Hospital-Johns Hopkins Medicine, described Mrs. Bailey “as a fireball … maybe even a meteor shower that rains down from every direction.”
The former Vivian Mildred Corbett, who was known as “Millie,” was born in Washington and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, by a single mother, Leona Bell Corbett, a seamstress.
After graduating from Booker T. Washington High School, where she was class valedictorian, she worked for eight years in Tulsa as a stenographer and medical records clerk.
“As a little girl in Oklahoma, I never imagined I would be able to do anything of real significance for anybody else,” Mrs. Bailey explained in a 2020 interview with Wellness Matters magazine, a publication of Howard County General-Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Today, I tell people, try to find something, a cause that is important to you and support that cause. Some people think you must have a lot of money to do something, but they forget that small amounts add up to large amounts.’
With the outbreak of World War II in 1941, Mrs. Bailey entered the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, later known as the Women’s Army Corps, in December 1942.
“The reason that I went into the Army, the main reason, was that jobs were not good in Oklahoma, where I lived in Tulsa. Because of the segregation, the jobs were limited. That was the reason I went into the service,” Mrs. Bailey told the Howard County Times in a 2020 interview.
“The young people today might have different reasons for going into the service,” she said. “I was, of course, wanted to serve my country, but I was also taking advantage of the fact that I figured that would give me some training and experience that I could use later.”
In 1943, she graduated from the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps Training Center at Fort Des Moines in Des Moines, Iowa, and was commissioned a lieutenant. The following year, she served as second-in-command of the Women’s Colored Department at Fort McClellan in Anniston, Alabama.
When she was transferred from there to Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, in 1944, she was presented a letter of commendation that praised her professional performance and her “excellent character, spirit and disposition.” She served as unit commander of Women’s Colored Detachment #2 at Fort Benning from 1944 to 1946.
During her tenure at Fort Benning, Mrs. Bailey was selected — one of only two African American women — in 1944 to attend the Adjutant General School, Officers’ Administration Course, at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, and graduated with a superior rating.
“The only time that I wasn’t segregated when I was in the Army was when I was in the adjutant school. It was a couple of weeks,” she said in the 2020 article. “The commander at the school said there would be no segregation under [his] command.”
She was discharged from the Women’s Army Corps in January 1946. Her decorations included the Women’s Army Corps Medal, American Theater Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.
Mrs. Bailey moved to Chicago, where she initially worked for what was then known as the Veterans Administration until going to work for the Social Security Administration. In 1970, she transferred to Baltimore where she was named a division director and was responsible for managing more than 1,100 employees. She retired in 1975.
In 1950 while living in Chicago, she married William Harrison Bailey, a chemist, and when the couple moved to Columbia in 1970, they settled in the Running Brook neighborhood.
Shaped by her military experiences, Mrs. Bailey established during the Vietnam War a care package program to support U.S. troops after she and her husband met a couple on a trip abroad whose son, Stephen J. Kelly, was serving with the Marine Corps in Vietnam.
“That was 1966, and she wrote me a letter asking what we needed and I said foot powder, socks, Kool-Aid to make the water taste better and other things,” said Mr. Kelly,of San Diego, who would not meet Mrs. Bailey face-to-face until after he and his wife, who were in graduate school, moved to Columbia. “She sent 17 boxes to my unit, which was serving in the jungle. She was just an incredible woman.”
Mrs. Bailey raised money for the packages, shopped for their content, and then gathered volunteers in her dining room to pack them. The effort, which affectionately became known as “Bailey’s Bundles,” continued through the nation’s subsequent wars, with American Legion Post 156 in Ellicott City helping with the cost of shipping.
“Whatever number of troops we have over there is too many,” she told The Sun in 2013. “Anytime you have to send them toilet paper, and then any president says [the country] is meeting our troops’ needs … well, that just makes me want to stand up and fuss and cuss.”
After moving to Columbia, she began volunteering at Howard County General Hospital and Howard Community College Food Pantry.
In 2004, she explained to The Sun the origins of her volunteerism.
“My mother was a very giving person. She didn’t have a lot to give, but she was generous,” Mrs. Bailey said. “That always stuck with me. I always wanted to try to continue that.”
She volunteered for 25 years at Howard County General Hospital-Johns Hopkins Medicine, and for 23 years was its longest-serving board member. In 2021, because of a donation from Mrs. Bailey, the hospital named its cafeteria the Vivian C. “Millie” Bailey and William Harrison Bailey Cafeteria.
For 26 years, she was a member of the Howard County Police Department Citizens’ Advisory Council, and governor-appointed positions included the Judicial Nominating Commission for Howard County and the Maryland Health Resources Planning Commission.
She has chaired the Friends of the Howard County Library and served on the board of Hospice Services of Howard County. She raised funds for the local food bank and in 1997, began raising funds for field trips and other initiatives for Running Brook Elementary School, near her home. In 2004, the school, which considered her its “guardian angel,” dedicated a bench that sits outside the main entrance.
She received the Howard County Volunteer of the Year Award in 1998, and other awards included the Philanthropist of the Year Award that was presented by the Community Foundation of Howard County, Maryland’s Top 100 Women, Towson University’s Distinguished Black Marylanders Award, Maryland State Governor’s Citations for her lifelong contributions, a Congressional Achievement Award that was presented by the late Congressman Elijah E. Cummings and recently the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award from President Donald Trump for her lifelong commitment to building a stronger nation through volunteer service.
In 2020, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball officially opened the 26,000-square-foot Vivian C. “Millie” Bailey Neighborhood Square, near Lake Kittamaqundi in downtown Columbia.
The Morning Sun
“Ms. Millie has a spirit that defines the greatest generation of America,” Mr. Ball said that day. “It is my hope that as our community enjoys this new park for many, many years to come, we will always remember the spirit of service and courage of Ms. Millie.”
Filled with an adventuresome ageless spirit, Mrs. Bailey was 102 when she went skydiving from an altitude of 10,000 feet. She told friends that at last she could cross the experience off her bucket list.
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She was an active member of American Legion Post 156.
She credited a diet low in starches and fats and staying physically active as reasons she gained centenarian status.
Mrs. Bailey adopted baseball player Jackie Robinson’s philosophy of life as her own: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
Mrs. Bailey is an ordained elder of the Presbyterian Church and a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Howard County at 9325 Presbyterian Circle in Columbia, where funeral services with full military honors will be held at 10 a.m. Monday.
Her only survivor is a niece, Mildred Gayle Blocker of Tulsa. Her husband died in 1986.