We Honor Mayor Bill Bell

The Rotary Club of Durham took the unusual step of paying tribute to long time County Commissioner and Mayor Bill Bell in a ceremony at the December 11th meeting. President Seth Jernigan made the introductions at the beginning of the ceremony by introducing Mayor Bell and other Rotarians that have served with him in Durham. Pictured above are Mayor Bell, Councilman Charlie Reese, City Manager Tom Bonfield, County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow, Councilwomen Cora Cole-McFadden, former Councilman and current State Senator, Mike Woodard, President Seth, Dave Ross, who was a neighbor of Mayor Bell when he moved to Durham with IBM in the early 70’s and Past President and former County Commissioner MaryAnn Black.

Mike Woodard delivered the tribute for the club.  His words are below:

In 2007 when I was on the City Council, I got an email from a resident who took us to task, “Stop what you’re doing. There is too much going on in Durham.”

Remember, this was a year before DPAC opened. I would love to talk with her now.

In the early 70s, when a young IBM engineer got involved in his neighborhood, no one could have predicted what Durham would become over the next 45 years—and what that young engineer would become.

No one—including that young engineer himself.

But Bill Bell’s involvement in his neighborhood led him to run for the Board of County Commissioners in 1972, becoming only the second African-American to serve to that point. He went on to serve our county, our city, and the region for the next four-and-a-half decades until his final City Council meeting last week.

It’s appropriate that we salute Mayor Bell and his service today in this space, the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

  • Across the street from the American Tobacco campus;
  • adjacent to the Durham Performing Arts Center; and
  • a few blocks from the gateway to the Southside neighborhood redevelopment.

But Mayor Bell’s influence on what our community is today—and will be in the future—isn’t just limited to the immediate area. It stretches to every corner of the county and indeed across the greater Triangle region.

In the last few months, Mayor Bell has been the subject of numerous articles and tributes, highlighting his visionary leadership, dedicated service, and many accomplishments. Time won’t allow me to recount those for you today.

Like most of you, I have a copy of Jean Anderson’s “A History of Durham County.”

I pulled out one of my copies and checked the index, only to see that Bill Bell is mentioned one time.

To be fair, Mrs. Anderson finished the first edition in 1990.

And she added a short chapter for the second edition, where—interestingly—she accurately predicted the change and growth Durham would have in the new century.

I predict that when historians update the story of our community and commit it to print, Bill Bell’s index entry will be much longer.

And he will take a prominent place alongside Mangum, Duke, Carr, Blackwell, Watts, Hill, Evans, Few, and Sanford. And alongside Fitzgerald, Markham, Shepard, Moore, Merrick, and Spaulding.

Having heard Mayor Bell speak dozens of times over the years, I can tell you that there are two things he would always say:

First, he’d always begin with “It’s an honor and pleasure to serve as the Mayor of the City of Durham.”

And second, he’d always end with “Good things are happening in Durham—thanks to people like yourselves.”

Mayor Bell, as the Rotary Club salutes you today, we say:

  • It’s been an honor and pleasure to have you as our Mayor.
  • And great things are happening in Durham—thanks to you and your leadership.

Finally, Foundation Chair Andy Esser, using points from several Rotarians, made Mayor Bell a Paul Harris Fellow.

In a short address, Mayor Bell thanked the Club for the honors and what the Club has meant to the community.  We hope he will use his right as an Honorary Member to visit often.

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