George H. Bell
September 30, 1927 - December 29, 2015
George H. Bell, a former Oregon Assistant Secretary of State, died December 29, 2015 following a long illness. He was 88.
George was a man of many parts: college professor, newspaper reporter and columnist, poet, TV news anchor, government official, essayist, blogger, member of many local and state committees, elected school and transit board member, and cribbage player.
George was the first of three children, Thelma and Edward, born to Hayden Bell and Jonnie Overton Bell of Fresno, CA. The family moved to Klamath Falls when he was three, where his father had found a job in a lumber mill during the Great Depression. His parents divorced when he was 13. He graduated from Klamath Union High School in 1945 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy just at the end of WWII. He served as a signalman on the battleship U.S.S. Alabama, and later with a minesweeper squadron cleaning up Japanese-held atolls in the Pacific.
Aided by the GI Bill, George attended Southern Oregon College, UCLA and the University of Oregon, where he attained a B.A. and an M.A. in English. As a student, he married Trubee Wetterau of Grants Pass, and they had a son, Jason Scott Bell. George taught at Gilchrist High School for two years, and then joined the faculty at Southern Oregon College as an English Instructor. After a divorce in 1960, George was hired by the Medford Mail Tribune to cover city hall and write editorials. He married Sarah Ellen Groves of Portland in 1963; they divorced in 1970.
He joined the staff of The Oregonian in 1963 as an entertainment columnist, resigning in 1965 to accept a newly created position as assistant to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, and as Bill Digester for the 1965 legislative session. Thereafter, KGW-TV hired him as day news editor later assignment editor and anchor of the noon show. When Tom McCall was elected governor, and appointed Clay Myers to complete his unexpired term, Clay engaged George as assistant secretary of state, a position he held during the eight years McCall was governor.
During that time, George met and fell in love with Frances “Frankie” Hargis, manager of Visitor Services for the Capitol. They were married by Chief Justice Arno Denecke of the Oregon Supreme Court in his chambers in October 1971. The couple enjoyed a wide circle of friends, and shared common interests in theater, music, the Oregon coast, reading, and the state’s political activity.
When George retired in 1987 as assistant director of the Oregon Department of Transportation, the governor appointed him to the Board of Trustees of the Oregon State Library. He was elected chair twice. He became active in the Oregon Library Association and chaired the Intellectual Freedom Committee at a time it won a national award.
He subsequently was appointed to the State Scholarship Commission, later renamed the Oregon Student Assistance Commission, which he chaired for two years. He worked with the governor and the Legislature to increase state support for students seeking post-secondary education.
George served on a variety of other local and state boards and commissions, including the Salem School Board, the Salem Area Mass Transit Board, the Salem Library Board, and the Salem Parks Board. Governor Kitzhaber appointed him to the State Parks and Recreation Commission. He served a term on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. He was twice an unsuccessful candidate for the Legislature.
Over the years, George published a host of feature stories, editorials and essays in northwest magazines and newspapers. He was especially noted for his provocative op-ed pieces on the quality of life in Oregon. He taught writing on three college campuses in the state. He also published two books of poetry, and wrote a twice-weekly blog called Polwatch on national and Oregon political affairs.
Among honors he received were: The J. Herbert Stone Award from SOLV; the Founders Award from the National Transportation Public Affairs Workshop; an Honorary Life Membership from the Oregon Library Association; the 2001 Service to Education Award from the Oregon Student Association; a letter of commendation from the Oregon State Board of Medical Examiners for a TV series he produced; a plaque from the Medford City Council for “fair and unbiased” reporting; a plaque from the Oregon Transportation Commission for his work on the Glenn Jackson Scholars program; and a plaque of appreciation from the Oregon tourism industry.
He is survived by his wife, Frankie; his son, Jason of Venice, CA two step-children, Kellie Hargis and Ken Hargis; his sister, Thelma Bates of Grants Pass and a niece, Karen Ramorino. Memorial contributions are invited to the Salem Public Library Foundation and the Mid-Willamette Valley Humane Society.
A Celebration of a Life well lived will be on Sunday January 17th at 4:00 pm in the Loucks Auditorium at Salem Public Library.