Rotary Club of Christiansburg-Blacksburg Awards their 2021 Professional Leadership Award

The Rotary Club of Christiansburg-Blacksburg awarded their 2021 Professional Leadership Award to Dr. Noelle Bissell, Director of the New River Health District for her leadership of the New River Valley’s COVID-19 response. Fittingly, the July 12th award ceremony was the Club’s first in-person meeting since March 2020. The Professional Leadership Award recognizes individuals who have gone beyond the boundaries of conventional professional success by demonstrating exceptional leadership in the development and implementation of programs beneficial to the community.  The award has been made annually since 2000 to individuals in diverse professions such as technology, education, medicine, finance, and public safety.
In normal times, Dr. Bissell’s job leading the New River Health District encompasses preventing disease and promoting health and wellness in all counties and localities of the New River Valley with a particular focus on families, children, mothers, environmental health, international travel, immunization, health education, food safety, and communicable disease prevention and control. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Health District’s focus has shifted to keeping our communities safe, getting the newest and most accurate information to residents, COVID-19 testing and mass vaccination clinics, and now, reaching out to those who have not yet gotten vaccinated and dispelling myths. Throughout this time, Dr. Bissell has been the face of the NRV’s COVID response and the NRV Public Health Task Force through her many public Zoom briefings and press calls and has guided the development of the website to provide the public with local COVID information, resources, volunteer opportunities, and vaccination sign-ups for residents and businesses.
While all of this is technically Dr. Bissell’s job, as NRV Public Health Task Force member Kevin Byrd, Executive Director, New River Regional Commission said, “She has shone brightly.” Byrd went on to say that Dr. Bissell questioned many boundaries to find what was needed to minimize the impact of COVID in the NRV community.  “She welcomed everyone to contribute, ‘How do we do this together?’. Her leadership style is why we’re here [meeting in person] today.”
Blacksburg Police Chief Anthony Wilson, co-chair of the NRV Public Health Task Force with Dr. Bissell, talked about how difficult the pandemic has been, in part due to its impact on society, friends, and family. He said, “We needed a General, and we got one” in Dr. Bissell. “Her grace under fire was incredible…she fought alongside us every day.”
Alan Fabian, CEO of LewisGale Hospital Montgomery and member of the NRV Public Health Task Force, shared insights about Dr. Bissell’s adaptive and highly effective style that was important in such rapidly shifting circumstances. She knows how to quickly seize opportunities, communicate effectively, and hold people accountable and responsible, “instead of overpowering people, she worked with them…We as the task force wanted to do nothing but support her.”
Dr. Bissell’s reaction to the Professional Leadership Award supports the speakers’ words, “I’m honored and I’m humbled, but I didn’t do it myself.” She acknowledged the NRV Public Health Task Force and her family, “Everyone that really mattered supported me and I really needed that.” And, of course, Dr. Bissell also reiterated that the vaccines are safe and effective and how important it is for everyone who can to get vaccinated to keep our communities safe and keep new COVID variants from forming.
Founded in 1923, the motto of the Rotary Club of Christiansburg-Blacksburg is "Service Above Self".  The Professional Leadership and Citizen of the Year Awards, youth development programs, and community service projects as well as participation in Rotary International programs like PolioPlus and Group Study Exchanges exemplify this motto.