Francis Bell, 84, a resident of Sunnyside, died suddenly at the University of Virginia hospital Tuesday, October 2. He was born Nov. 6, 1922, in Dublin, Virginia, to Francis and Stella Currie Bell.
After graduating from Dublin High School in 1939, he matriculated at Virginia Military Institute, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. During World War II, Bell joined the Air Force serving as Technical Sergeant and Chief Clerk with the 509th Composite Group. He participated in the planning, briefing and assembling of intelligence material for both historic atomic bomb drops.
After the War, Bell enrolled at the University of Virginia’s McIntyre School of Commerce where he distinguished himself as the first mounted Cavalier to ride on the field for a football game. Following graduation in 1948, he joined the state bank examiners, beginning a 53-year banking career. In 1953, he became vice president, cashier and director of Marion National Bank. In 1957, he received the Distinguished Service Award from the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce.
He moved with his family to Harrisonburg in 1960 to become president of Rockingham National Bank. He put together a consortium of banks in 1972 forming the Valley of Virginia Bankshares. Through mergers, he finished his career as executive vice president of Dominion Bankshares, a position that took him to Roanoke for three years.
He was elected president of the Virginia Bankers Association in 1972. Bell retired from banking in 1983, however, his working life was far from over. From 1984 to 2002, he was a member relations consultant for the American Bankers Association, traveling all over the state.
His civic contributions were extensive. He served for 37 years on the board of trustees of Sunnyside Retirement Community, 16 of those as chairman. In 2000, he was named the Trustee of the Year by the Virginia Association of Non-Profit Health Organizations. He was a member, and president in 1966, of the Harrisonburg Kiwanis Club. As a member of the Harrisonburg Rotary Club, he was named Rotarian of the Year and a Paul Harris Fellow in 1996.
Bell was elected president of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce in 1962 and president of the Harrisonburg United Way in 1967. He was president of Spotswood Country Club and member of the board of directors of Shenandoah Valley Educational Television Corporation.
A life-long Presbyterian, he was ordained an elder at Royal Oak Presbyterian Church in Marion in 1954 and later elected a ruling elder at First Presbyterian Church in Harrisonburg.
In the 1980s he began a long tenure with the Employers Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), an adjunct military group which supports the mission of soldiers and their families. He was regional chair of ESGR from 1984 to 2002, when he began a three-year appointment as state chair. As a result of his meritorious work, he was given The Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service and the Virginia National Guard Legion of Merit.
He was a member of the board of visitors of James Madison University for eight years, serving as rector for six years. Bell Hall, a residence hall, was named in honor. In 1984, the Virginia Council on Education presented him with the Outstanding Service Award. A year later, James Madison University awarded him their Distinguished Service Award. He also served on the Board of Visitors of Radford College from 1964-1972 and was Chairman of the Virginia Council of Visitors in 1981.
Although his public life was exceptional, his family will remember him as the quintessential father. His role as a father was exemplary and it was his favorite job. He was always interested and involved in the lives of his family – especially his 11 grandchildren — whether it was supervising the repair of jet skis, watching a golf match or consulting over job decisions.
Bell is survived by his wife of 57 years, Isabelle Mottesheard Bell and three children, Martha Graham and her husband Mark, Libby Stevens and her husband Gene, Francis Frank Bell V and his wife Brenda. He is also survived by 11 grandchildren: Ethan Graham and his wife Kim, Allison Graham Mizer and her husband Adam, Aaron Graham, Kent Graham, Sarah Stevens, Jim Stevens, David Stevens, Ginny Stevens, Francis Tripp Bell VI, Currie Bell and Christopher Bell; and two great-grandchildren: Connor Francis Graham and Maria Graham. He is also survived by his brother Dan Bell and his wife Joanne of Dublin, his sister Ellen Campbell of Harrisonburg and one nephew Dick Campbell and his wife Tracy of Manteo, NC.
A memorial service is planned for Friday, Oct. 5, at 2:30 at First Presbyterian Church in Harrisonburg. The family will receive visitors following the service. Another service will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6, at New Dublin Presbyterian Church, in Dublin, with burial to follow.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made to the VMI Foundation for the benefit of the Francis Bell Educational Fund, Lexington, Virginia, or to New Dublin Presbyterian Church, Dublin. Kyger Funeral Home in Harrisonburg is handling arrangements.