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Longtime Pilot columnist Joseph Bell retires

The 89-year-old was a popular liberal, humorous voice for the Newport-Mesa.

January 05, 2011|By Mike Reicher, mike.reicher@latimes.com
  • Joseph Bell pets his dog, Gia, in his home office, where he did much of his work as a freelance writer and columnist for the Daily Pilot.
Joseph Bell pets his dog, Gia, in his home office, where… (KENT TREPTOW, Daily…)

NEWPORT BEACH — After nearly 20 years as a mainstay of the Daily Pilot and a long career as a freelance writer and journalism educator, columnist Joseph N. Bell is retiring.

Thursday's "The Bell Curve" column will be his last.

"When a time for change comes, you act on it," Bell, 89, said in an interview Wednesday at his Santa Ana Heights home office. "You don't drag it out."

During his years at the Pilot, Bell, who will turn 90 on the Fourth of July, wrote from a liberal perspective in one of the most conservative areas in the country.

"He was never afraid to write what he felt," said William Lobdell, the Pilot's former editor and current columnist. "He was a liberal Democrat writing in Republican territory, and he never flinched."

From conservative politicians to the John Wayne Airport settlement agreement, Bell followed Newport issues closely. He also found plenty of fodder in Costa Mesa.

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Bell harped on conservative Costa Mesa Councilwoman Wendy Leece for her support of the theory of intelligent design and on former Costa Mesa Mayor Allan Mansoor for his hard-line stance on illegal immigration.

"He's probably as liberal as I am conservative," Leece said. "Although we disagree, I always enjoyed reading his column."

Besides politicians, Bell sometimes wrote about his dogs — Coco, who died in 2006, and Gia, a Schnauzer mix who keeps him company today.

The title of one of his columns, "A new dog for an old softie," belies Bell's sharp wit and strong attitude honed as a Navy pilot during World War II.

"He was very tough, and very inspiring," said Lobdell, who credits Bell with sparking his journalism career when he took his class at UC Irvine. "He took journalism very seriously and he wanted everybody else to as well."

Bell's column sometimes took a personal turn, like when he covered the death of a friend and his wife — the two pieces he said are his favorites.

"They grabbed me in the gut," he said.

His other stories were light, often drawing from his passion for baseball. Bell is a diehard Angel fan. One 2003 column on then-gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger was titled "Take me out to the recall."

"You can find the humorous in almost everything you handle, except death," said Bell, who has a copy of Jon Stewart's book "America (The Book)" on his coffee table. "Humor can be used to enrich, to bring a subject back to someplace that is comprehensible to everybody."

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