Sunday, December 17, 2017
News Roundup

Bill Bissi, a champion for people with disabilities, dies at 97

NEW PORT RICHEY — Anyone driving north on Grand Boulevard has undoubtedly seen the mural gracing the side of Bissi and Associates Disability Advocates in the heart of downtown. In the foreground of a scene set in the 1930s, a young couple lounges by a brick wall in a casual embrace. Behind them, Mae West and W.C. Fields stand on the front porch of the Hotel Newport, a landmark in a time when producers flirted with the idea of making movies in New Port Richey.

The mural represents William L. "Bill" Bissi, who commissioned it in 2007, and his wife Dorothy, who died later that year. The kids playing nearby are their children.

If the scene denotes one kind of timelessness, the business itself represents another. Mr. Bissi founded Bissi and Associates in 1982 — at age 66 — after 35 years working for the Social Security Administration.

Mr. Bissi died Aug. 16 in the Medical Center of Trinity of kidney failure. He was 97.

"My uncle was the Colonel Sanders of the Social Security system," said nephew George Drucker — a reference to Harland Sanders, who started franchising Kentucky Fried Chicken at age 65.

To his clients, he was just Bill, the lawyer who did not charge a fee unless he won the case. Significant victories reduced hurdles for people with chronic pain and made it easier for veterans to collect disability payments on top of their VA benefits.

His vast experience navigating the system helped his clients.

"How many people do you know who started working for Social Security in 1936 and were still around two years ago to talk about how things have changed?" said Doug Bissi, 54, a representative at Bissi and Associates and Mr. Bissi's son.

Mr. Bissi was born in 1915 in Chicago.

He joined the Social Security Administration in Washington, D.C., and attended George Washington University Law School at night until he graduated. He met Dorothy Jones at a picnic in 1942 and was instantly taken.

"It was her personality," he told a newspaper years ago. They married Feb. 14, 1943, Valentine's Day.

Mr. Bissi fought in the Army's Normandy invasion on D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge. He earned two Bronze Stars, but came away changed.

Mr. Bissi went back to school, earning a journalism degree from Northwestern University. He wrote for the Chicago Tribune, but ultimately found a home again with Social Security.

He was still working until about a year and a half ago, often writing appeals on court decisions. "I'd say, 'Dad, this judge did this, this and this,' " his son said. "He would say, 'Well, he made a mistake on this, this and this.' "

After his wife's death in 2007, Mr. Bissi hired artist Tamara Gerkin to create a bronze sculpture. Eternal Love depicts Dorothy Bissi and her husband, his arms wrapped around her waist and torso from behind. The sculpture has stood behind Dorothy's grave at Trinity Memorial Gardens since 2008.

Only now, her husband lies beside her.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

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