John Bell ’67

12 March 2019

Class: 1967

Major: History

Residence: Markham, VA

Deceased: February 20, 2019

(deceased 02/20/2019)John Donnelly Bell (Age 74) Of Markham, VA, died at Glendale Farm on February 20, 2019. He had a long career as a journalist, media consultant, and activist on behalf of environmental and labor causes. He was born to John Stanley Bell and Eleanor Terese (Conners) Bell in Chicago, IL in 1944 and grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Bell graduated in 1962 from Culver Military Academy in Indiana where he was a member of Company C. He majored in history at Carleton College in Northfield, MN and graduated in 1967. He earned an M.S. degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 1968. Bell began a journalism career as a suburban general assignment reporter for The Chicago Tribune in August 1968. The next year he moved to the midnight shift at The Chicago Daily News where he was a crime reporter. In the early 1970s, Bell worked at The Seattle Times reporting on such stories as the D.B. Cooper airplane hijacking, outlaw motorcycle gangs, Native American issues, and alleged sightings of so-called “Bigfoot” or “Sasquatch” creatures in the Northwest wilderness. The American Political Science Association awarded Bell a congressional fellowship in 1973. He moved to Washington, DC where he worked as an APSA fellow for U.S. Senator Lee Metcalf (D-MT) and later for House Majority Whip John McFall (D-CA). He also was a press aide to U.S. Rep. James Scheuer (D-NY). Bell co-wrote a book published in 1977 titled “Don’t Drink Your Milk” with Dr. Frank Oski. John’s segments focused on the investigation of the dairy industry’s role in the Watergate scandal. He called the book a “bovine thriller destined for swift remainderment.” He also worked on a writing project for Ralph Nader on the need to protect textile industry workers from the disabling respiratory disease called “brown lung.” His interest in worker health and safety led Bell to become a speechwriter for the director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 1978. Bell was a talented guitar and mandolin player. He performed at many venues in the Washington area with a band named “The Informed Sources” made up of fellow musicians who held day jobs as reporters and editors. He developed a large group of friends during these years and was loved by them as a gregarious storyteller and social host who frequently prepared elaborate meals at his various farms in the Virginia countryside. Bell was a staunch fan of the Green Bay Packers and could be found cheering them on wearing a cheese-head on game days. A good athlete, he played for the Sitting Ducks softball team in Alexandria, VA for many years. Bell was appointed Director of Media Relations for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission near the end of the Carter Administration. His strong advocacy on behalf of consumers led to his dismissal eight months in to President Reagan’s first term. He served as a media consultant to the United Auto Workers union during collective bargaining with the Big 3 automakers and went on, in the early 1980s, to work for a media/political consulting firm now known as GMMB. Bell served as a deputy press secretary in 1983 for the Mondale for President campaign, where he helped shape media coverage of the Democratic candidate for President. In 1984 he became deputy field director for Mondale responsible for 18 western states. He worked for Friends of the Earth in the environmental group’s Washington, DC office in the late 1980s where he was part of the team promoting Paul McCartney’s concert tour in the U.S. in 1989-90. Bell also handled many details of a secret 1992 visit by Salman Rushdie, the author, to Washington, DC after the Ayatollah Khomeini, then Iran’s supreme leader, had pronounced a fatwa (death sentence) on the novelist in 1989, forcing him into hiding. Organizers of a conference on freedom of expression held at the Freedom Forum hired Bell to accompany Rushdie and arrange covert meetings and interviews. Bell set up Rushdie in a safe house in rural Virginia near his own farm. The British Royal Air Force flew Rushdie to Washington under heavy security, where he lunched in secret with Senators at the Capitol with Bell at his side. Bell returned to the United Auto Workers in the 1990s and edited the union’s UAW Washington Report newsletter. He also consulted for the Association of Trial Lawyers of America during this period. He went on to work at the U.S. Postal Rate Commission. At the end of his life, Bell was employed by the U.S. Postal Service in Arlington, Virginia. He was a member of the American Postal Workers Union. Bell’s marriage in 1969 to Sharon L. Nelson ended in divorce. Immediate survivors include his sister, Rosemary Bell Ehle, of Mequon, Wisconsin, and his niece, Caroline (Rundhaug) Johnson, of Lafayette, Colorado. Bell was predeceased by two sisters: Anne Laura Bell, who died in 2005, and Christine Bell, who died in 2016. He is survived by many cousins and dear friends. A celebration of Bell’s life by family and close friends will be held in May in Washington, DC.A celebration of Bell’s life by family and close friends will be held in May in Washington, DC.Published in The Washington Post on Mar. 12, 2019

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