Joe Bell: 'insatiably curious ... a great friend'

Respected journalist, who died at age 92, is celebrated at a memorial at UC Irvine.

January 22, 2014|By Hannah Fry
  • Sherry Angel, center, Joe Bell's wife, and other members of the audience sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during a memorial service for Bell at the UCI University Club on Tuesday.
Sherry Angel, center, Joe Bell's wife, and other… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

As a devoted newspaper man, Joseph Bell spent his life sharing stories.

After two hours and more than a dozen speeches during Bell's memorial Tuesday night, it became clear that Bell's personality and humor touched just as many people as his widely published writing.

Bell, a longtime Newport Beach resident known for his extensive publishing record as a freelance writer, journalism educator, author and Daily Pilot columnist, died on Thanksgiving 2013, members of his family said. He was 92.

Bell died after a long battle with Parkinson's disease, which had been progressing rapidly during the last eight months of his life, eventually forcing him into hospice care in early August.

"Now Thanksgiving is a day to celebrate Joe because it was the day he chose to leave us gracefully," said his wife, Sherry Angel.


The late journalist left two requests. The first was a funeral in his hometown of Decatur, Ind., which the family hosted in December. The second was a memorial service in Orange County where his former colleagues, friends and family could celebrate his life.

At the University Club at UC Irvine, speakers shared remembrances of the man who loved music, writing, baseball, playing cards, hot dogs and a good martini.

For more than 40 years, Bell wrote for newspapers and magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post, Harper's, Look, Reader's Digest, Good Housekeeping, McCall's, Family Circle, Saturday Review, the New York Times, the National Observer, Christian Science Monitor and the Los Angeles Times.

Bell spent the last 10 years of his career writing "The Bell Curve," a weekly column for the Daily Pilot in which he wrote from a liberal perspective in a conservative-leaning coverage area.

During the memorial, Angel read excerpts from Bell's numerous columns, some of which date back more than 30 years ago.

After reading part of a column written for the Daily Pilot in 2002, Angel paused, her eyes looking up to meet the crowd of Bell's admirers.

"When I'm reading his work, it brings him back in a flash like he's sitting right next to me," she said.

Erik Patterson, Bell's stepson, fondly recalled his first encounter with his mother's suitor when he was 4 years old.

"My mom asked me what I thought of him, and I said I wanted to throw him in the trash," he said with a smile. "Needless to say, our relationship blossomed a bit more after that. He became a really good dad to me."

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