- 73 years old
- Date of birth: Aug 31, 1940
- Place of birth:
Gloucester, Massachusetts, United States
- Date of passing: Apr 4, 2014
- Place of passing:
Boston, Massachusetts, United States
|My starting point is the dignity inherent in every human being and the oneness of all humanity.|
"I had the privilege of serving CARE India as the Assistant Country Director between September 1997 and July 2006.
I had the rare honour of accompanying Peter on field visits in India and addressed meetings of students and teachers in universities in the US along with him on two occasions.
There are many things that I admired in Peter:
His deep sense of respect and humanity. He showed respect to each and everyone, regardless of level and was a great listener. I remember conversations with him about CARE India's relations with the Indian Government (who funded our operations to a large extent), the challenges of programming in a country which had so much diversity of language, geography and income and vulnerability to natural disasters.
His warm smile and welcoming countenance. He was tall and had a commanding presence which was never intimidating.
His meticulousness in sharing with us all that he saw in the field. His field reports were a delight to read and were like little e-books, with pictures, conversations and deep insights and questions. I often used to wonder how he could accomplish all this despite all the pressures on him.
His commitment to CARE and its work. People like me in the field saw that he led a team of highly qualified professionals led by the late Pat Carey with distinction. For myself, I learned a lot by simply observing how Peter ran such a complex organization like CARE with such calm and poise."
"Peter Bell: A Life to Celebrate and Remember
(Presented by Peter Hakim at Peter Bell’s Memorial Service, April 23, 2014)
Thank you Karen, and Jonathan and Emily too, for giving me the privilege of speaking here today.
It was 47 years ago this month, in 1967, that Peter Bell called to offer me a job with the Ford Foundation in Brazil. For most of those 47 years he was my boss. I had the great pleasure of meeting Karen on the same day he did, just a few hours late that’s all. It was at a dinner in Peter’s apartment in Rio de Janeiro. That night the guests left early, very early for Brazil, because Peter ignored us. He was absorbed by Karen. I knew Jonathan and Emily since the day they were born. I remember many happy occasions with them. There was one irritating memory, however: their nonstop campaign to convince me to stop smoking. But they kept at it, and I finally broke the habit.
Peter Bell was a remarkable man. He had vision, stubborn courage, profound intelligence, and—most important—simple decency. Nor will I ever forget his constant drive for perfection in whatever he did.
When I joined Ford, its international work was dedicated to development, meaning economic development—making poor countries richer. Peter was among the first to insist that democracy, human rights, and social justice were just as important—that politics and values had a central role in development. Peter had a leading role in the reinvention of the Ford Foundation’s mission. He also helped create a vigorous social science enterprise in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America. Back then, and throughout his life, he was a pioneer in rethinking the purposes and priorities of international aid efforts.
Perhaps his most memorable action in Brazil was to support with a Foundation grant the creation of one the country’s first independent research and policy centers. The center played a vital role in sustaining the work of Brazil’s leading social and political thinkers, including future President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, after their expulsion from public universities by the nation’s military rulers. Peter got the grant approved despite the skepticism of some Foundation officials and an explicit warning from the US embassy, which was suspicious of the political leanings of Cardoso and the new center.
On his arrival in Chile in 1971, just as socialist president Salvador Allende took power, Peter took on another political battle. Until then, nearly all Ford Foundation grants had been directed
to institutions associated with one political party. No, it was not Allende’s party. Peter immediately set out to reshape the Foundation’s grant making and make it reflect the broad ideological diversity of Chilean politics.
His success elevated the Foundation’s credibility as an independent, nonpolitical actor. It also paved the way for the Ford’s subsequent nonpartisan efforts to assist scholars and human rights activists who were victims of the repression that took hold in Chile after the military took power in 1973. The Foundation supported Chileans who thought they could continue their research and writing in Chile—but had been banned from universities. And it helped to sustain, at times rebuild, the careers of many others who decided to leave because they feared for their lives and families. Nearly all of them eventually returned to Chile, joining with those who endured the dictatorship, to reconstruct one of Latin America’s most vibrant democracies.
Long after, Peter and I still wondered why the Foundation’s actions were so highly praised and so well remembered—in Chile and across Latin America. We both knew that nothing heroic or of great risk had been done. The Foundation had simply acted with decency and intelligence. It was a powerful combination that personified Peter throughout his life.
In 1980, Peter became president of the Inter-American Foundation, a small US government agency designed to support collective development initiatives of the poor. Unlike Ford, where he worked hard to reshape the culture and mission, his new task, as he saw it, was to protect the Inter-American Foundation and its idealism, passion, and commitment.. But the challenge was also to make the Foundation more orderly and coherent—and better at communicating its mission and results. The idea was to show that this relatively unknown organization was not merely a curiosity among aid institutions, but that it had a great deal to teach others about what development is and how best to achieve it. He took all that on while, from nearly the outset of his three-year tenure, he was fighting attempts by hard liners in the Heritage Foundation and the Reagan administration to replace him—which they regrettably succeeded in doing.
While still president of the Foundation, Peter helped found the Inter-American Dialogue. He later served as its co-chair for many years. The Dialogue was designed to address the most important issues in United States-Latin American relations and build cooperation among the countries of the hemisphere. I have worked there for nearly 25 years. For 17 of them, I was president.
There is no way I can summarize all that Peter contributed to make the Dialogue grow from a yearly conference to the premier independent center working on Western Hemisphere affairs. Looking back over the years, Peter actively participated in every major decision affecting the Dialogue’s programs, leadership, and institutional development. He was a constant monitor of the quality of the Dialogue’s work. He sought to make sure that our analyses and
recommendations were fair and balanced, and he insisted on inclusiveness and diversity in our staffing and programming.
The Dialogue benefitted not only from Peter’s oversight—but also from his regular participation in our activities. No one was more engaged with the Dialogue. He attended, religiously, every board meeting, was present for every major conference, joined commissions and working groups in Cuba, Haiti, Peru, and elsewhere—and greatly enriched all of them. And he did all as a volunteer, while working full-time managing other, larger institutions.
In our work together over many years, Peter always got to the next place first and was the first to depart—Ford in Brazil, Ford in Chile, the Inter-American Foundation, and the Dialogue. I inevitably had the task of toasting him at his farewell. Sadly, I am doing that again today. I complained to him once that he was never there for my farewells. He replied yes, that was true, but that he was always there to welcome me at the next stop. Who knows? Maybe once again. Peter Bell is a man to be remembered and celebrated.
Thank you again Karen, Emily, and Jonathan for sharing him so often with me."
"This is the tribute that J.J. Bell delivered at the Memorial Service on April 23:
"In a recent article, the President of Oxfam America stated that Peter was the “kind of invisible statesman who could eat breakfast with peasants, lunch with presidents and dine in the evening with human rights activists.” In reading the many tributes to Peter since his passing, I got to admire him all over again-- and I was pretty impressed the first time. I can certainly attest that he was the quintessential over achiever, but an over achiever with a big heart, always rooted in the solid values he learned growing up here in Gloucester. As Peter’s younger brother by seven years, I viewed him mainly from the back seat—and I mean that on many levels. He lived his life day by day on the gold standard, while the rest of our large family, and I think we all would agree, were on the silver standard on good days, the bronze standard on some of the lesser days. Some days we did not even medal. It was actually quite liberating to discover Peter was operating in a totally different orbit. For gosh sakes, by the time I was entering grammar school, Peter had already become an Eagle Scout, traveled to Japan with the American Field Service, wrote a book about his experience, and had his whole family in kimonos with chopsticks eating seaweed, all before he secured early acceptance at Yale. And that was just the beginning.
Always modest and with classic New England reserve, Peter never flaunted his propensity for perfection, although it was clearly there. It is for that reason as siblings we took a certain delight to hear from our parents, as family lore, that as a young child in Magnolia, Peter slipped out of the house one day to a neighbor’s house and took some cookies right out of their kitchen cabinet. After catching him with his hands in the cookie jar, so to speak, my parents forced a contrite Peter to return to the scene of the crime and apologize. A few years later, another story goes, living in East Gloucester and apparently not fully repentant, and once again wholly out of character, Peter wandered alone out of the family yard while playing, then walked a quarter of a mile down the road toward the small fire station then in existence and proceeded to pull the alarm, creating quite a scare, not to mention a commotion. Well, it seems from then on, he was on the straight and narrow road toward the impressive man of international stature he was to become.
Following the Bell family tradition, Peter also had a few foibles which we all found quite amusing. He cared nothing about cars and knew even less about them. It reflected in his driving ability which was, for lack of a better word, horrible. Earlier, I spoke about my viewing Peter from the back seat. The back seat is exactly where you wanted to be when Peter was driving, with seat belt fastened--very tightly.
As worldly as Peter was, he knew astonishingly little about pop culture. The story goes that he sat at the same table as Angelina Jolie at a United Nations dinner on poverty. Having no idea who she was, he came home referring to a very attractive woman sitting at his table. As President of Care, Peter had done some collaboration with Bono on the One World Campaign. Never quite fully grasping who Bono was, Peter referred to U-2 as Bono’s band. Later, when U-2 came to perform in Atlanta, where Peter and Karen were living, Bono reached out to Peter, and invited him to his concert, front row and with a backstage pass, no less. Bono even did a shout out to Peter during the concert, calling him “my hero”. Unfortunately, Peter failed to hear it, as he had shut off his hearing aid in order to tune out the music, which wasn’t his favorite.
Technologically speaking, Peter was similarly challenged, a family trait he came by honestly. Karen, always there to support Peter on all things, big and small, was forever at the ready to provide technical assistance when his computer was bedeviling him.
Fortunately, Peter had a well developed sense of humor, sometimes hard to recognize because it was so dry it was almost dusty. When he did laugh, it was all in the throat and very distinctive, very infectious. When his doctors marveled at his having three different kinds of cancers at once, Peter stated matter of factly “In Gloucester we call that the perfect storm”.
Although a Spartan in many ways, Peter had some guilty and not so guilty pleasures. He instilled in me his love for Brazil, where I spent a summer with him. Never a great dancer, he loved to samba through the streets of Rio during Carnival. Although a temperate drinker, he loved to have a frozen limoncello at our house on Christmas eve. A committed citizen of Gloucester as well as of the world, he took great delight in blueberry picking in Dogtown Common, and playing tennis or walking with Karen and their dog around the Back Shore. His family, his wife, his children, their significant others and his two beautiful grandchildren, Melanie and Jessica, were the center of his expansive universe. He got to know Emily’s fiancé, Dave, and gave him very high marks, Peter not being the easiest grader. No matter where he was in the world, he had a lifelong passion for the Red Sox, reflected in his enjoyment of listening to the games on radio, even with a TV nearby. And just before he passed away, he was happily aware from brother Tim, sitting at his bedside, that it was opening day.
With a potent combination of passion, hard work and values as pure as the driven snow, Peter did so much for so many for so long. He leaves a big hole in our family and will be sorely missed.""
"This is the tribute I shared at the memorial service for Peter Bell on April 23:
I met Peter Bell when he interviewed me in April 1999 to be his Special Assistant. He was a legend at the Woodrow Wilson School, and I couldn’t believe my luck when I was offered the job. Fifteen years later, I feel so lucky that I got to work with Peter at CARE and again at Harvard and, more importantly, that he became a dear friend and cherished mentor.
Peter meant the world to me, my husband Marcos and our children. He loved to take credit for our marriage. Although, to be honest, the last thing Peter expected when he hired Marcos was a romance between his Special Assistant and the new Brazilian guy. But he was supportive from the start, meeting our respective parents on trips to Brazil and Sri Lanka (before each of us did) and assuring them that we were a good match – and returning with intel on the would-be in-laws!
I feel lucky to have seen Peter in action not only in Angola and Afghanistan, but also at Thanksgivings in Atlanta and Gloucester, on campus at Harvard, and at the CEO retreats of the NGO Leaders Forum. There was such consistency and authenticity in the Peter Bell who met with presidents and rebel leaders, and the Peter Bell who patiently explained to my kids how a fireplace worked. The man who met with every student who asked for career guidance - and the man who demanded correct grammar and punctuation.
But let’s not pretend that he was perfect. Peter did have his limitations. For example, he was clueless about technology. Around 2001, I persuaded him that his inability to use a computer was inefficient. “You cannot keep writing emails in longhand on yellow writing pads, and asking your executive assistant to type them,” I said. I made him feel so bad that he agreed to take computer lessons. Well, the lessons were a complete disaster. Peter would emerge from his office sheepishly, with questions that didn’t progress much further than “how did you say I should turn this thing on?” So we stuck with the writing pads! In his post-CARE years, thanks to Karen, Peter emailed and used his cell phone like a pro. A far cry from the man who buried his cell phone in his luggage on a trip, because he could not figure out how to make it stop ringing!
I loved traveling with Peter, because those trips revealed his values. He understood that his presence in villages invited grandstanding by officials. He would diplomatically pivot to engaging with ordinary people – and enjoyed that the most. He listened humbly, and let what he heard touch him deeply. Years later, he would remind me about the mother in Angola, or the farmer in Sri Lanka, and refer to something they had said.
When we visited Afghanistan in June 2001, women were so isolated that Peter was not permitted to step into the abandoned girls’ school where CARE was distributing food. While Peter visited another project, I spent time with the widows who gathered monthly to receive food rations. The widows were delighted to have a visitor, and I got caught up in conversation. Peter had finished his visit and was waiting outside. But he sent a message asking me to take my time. With that, he powerfully conveyed to those around him that those ostracized widows were important. They had dignity. Their views were worthy. And he would wait.
I saw Peter close-up as he led an organization of 13,000 people through complex crises – from staff being held hostage in war-torn countries to being accused of promoting abortion and prostitution by conservative members of Congress. Peter led with integrity and optimism. He didn’t pretend to have all the answers. He wanted to understand the nuances. He was deeply appreciative and respectful of staff. Peter’s personality did not fit the archetype of the charismatic leader, but he inspired everyone around him, and his moral clarity was a beacon.
Peter was a giant in the fields of international development and human rights. He leaves a precious legacy of collaboration, courage, vision and ambition. Peter shaped me as a professional, but my fondest memories are personal. The last time he called me (in mid-March) he was in good form. He asked about each member of my family, reminiscing about how he had visited my son Antonio after he was born (and expressing wonder that Antonio was turning nine). A couple of days before Peter passed away, I emailed to tell him how my daughter Maya, a rabid fellow Red Sox fan, had been assigned to a Little League team called the Yankees - and how that had made her cry! He always got a kick out of those stories…
The world is a better place because Peter lived in it for 73 years, and lived every day so fully, so optimistically and so enthusiastically. Thank you, Karen, Emily and Jonathan, for sharing Peter with us. Deepest gratitude to Karen - Peter could be who he was, because Karen is who she is."
"It was probably inevitable that, being from Brazil, I first met Peter around soccer, in the mid-1980s, when he and Karen, my wife Eloisa and I were soccer parents at Somerset Elementary, in Chevy Chase Maryland, where Emily and my son Pedro were classmates. I knew, then, the good deeds Peter Bell had done in Brasil in the late 1960s, as Peter Hakim just told us. When Fernando Henrique Cardoso was elected president o Brazil, in 1994, I interviewed Peter for the daily Estado de S.Paulo. I remember the joy and excitement in Peter's voice as we talked about the triumph of the friend he had assisted in difficult times. President Cardoso, not being able to be at this Memorial Service, asked me to come on his behalf and share with you his words of remembrance of Peter.
Peter Bell, a rare individual
A Eulogy by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso
It is with emotion and a deep sense of sorrow that I join you in spirit this morning as we remember and celebrate the life of our dear friend Peter Bell. Only those who have witnessed Peter's hard work and dedication to protect and support social scientists like me and all those affected by the violence of the military coups in Brazil and Chile in the 1960s and 1970s can understand the greatness of his actions.
Without Peter and the support of William Carmichael, who was then the representative of Ford Foundation in Brazil, many of us would have been forced to emigrate or give up our life careers as researchers - not to mention more difficult situations that led many to prison. It was thanks to Peter's understanding, to his inquisitive spirit, his intelligence and sense of solidarity that organizations like the one I helped to create in São Paulo in 1969 - after the abominable Institutional Act number 5 that expelled us from public universities - were able to sustain themselves and stay true to the search of truth. Peter did later in Santiago the same courageous work he had done in Rio and would continue to do in other places to the benefit of humanity.
Today it is relatively easy to act as a liberal and a democrat, guided by the values that so distinguished our departed friend. During the years of authoritarianism, when fear replaced common sense and courage, few dared to be disagreeable to those in power, especially if you were a foreigner.
Without ever ceasing to be the polite and elegant man he was, Peter faced very difficult situations to help us, including in his own country, but did not give up. He supported those he saw as deserving, regardless of the beneficiary’s ideology and the risks of his courageous attitude. His name is engraved in the History of those who fought for decency and democracy.
For me, Peter was more than a public figure. He was a friend. I remember with emotion the visit I paid with him to his parents’ home, in Gloucester, a lovely New England town, to where he returned with Karen after doing good work in so many places. Once in New York, in a moment of anguish, Peter shared sad news about the health of some of his relatives. I believe he confided in me because he knew of the esteem I had for him and for his father, an exemplary Republican.
I never forgot my visit to Peter, his wife and children in their family home in Atlanta, when he was at the Carter Center. Or his work at Care , where he invited my wife Ruth Cardoso to serve on the board of one of their initiatives.
I fondly remember Peter in the meetings of the Inter-American Dialogue, of which we were part from the beginning. He was always looking for balance and to advance good causes. And how could I forget our long evening conversations with Abe Lowenthal about matters we cared deeply about.
I leave with you my word of respect and saudades to this great American, a man of the world who was, at once, so discreet, affectionate, constructive and the perfect gentleman. The social sciences in Latin America and all of us , his friends, owe Peter a great debt of gratitude. We will never forget him."
"Peter has been a colleague and inspiration over the years of our many shared interests, especially in Latin America.. How he made such a big and positive difference for so many people is a model of a caring human being who has the skills to lead and motivate others. I view Peter as a model international citizen. It seems so unfair to him and Karen and the family that after so many years of public service that he was not given time now to share his memoires and enjoy his family. Peter is missed greatly by so many of us."
"Peter will forever be a part of me as his wisdom, his example as a leader of dignity, humility and resolve to make the world better, his compassion for others, his absolute clarity that every person had the right to live in peace and dignity, and his willingness to inject his unique sense of humor into tough situations as a way of building bridges are what I aspire to embody everyday. I especially liked Peter's laugh that was...well,,,really different, and you just had to hear it to understand what I mean. Karen, Jonathon and Emily, thank you deeply for sharing Peter with the world. Peter, you lived your life well. Thank you for coming into the world and helping to transform it. Abrazo, my dear mentor and friend."
"Peter you will be missed by all your Yale friends. We shared JE, the Yale Daily News and Book and Snake, and many fine times. Later we shared a couples friendship with you and Karen here in Atlanta. That was probably the most important, and where I saw you as a man of the world. I will always remember watching you from afar purposely striding thru Atlanta's airport carrying your briefcase and no doubt off to Africa or some other place in need of help. You went full circle, back to your boyhood home in Gloucester, so peaceful for me to think of. Kay and I will always remember you Peter and you will remain in our hearts."
Peter Dexter Bell
by Kenneth R. Harding
Peter Dexter Bell was my roommate at Yale, and a man who profoundly influenced my life – more directly, perhaps, than any other non-relative I can think of.
I was utterly saddened to learn of his passing, and truly wish I could have attended his memorial services in person, scheduled to take place in a few hours. Alas, given the time zone differential and the requirements of an irreversible commitment here in Hawaii, it is physically impossible to travel from Honolulu to Gloucester in just 12 hours; hence, I must reflect on the impact of Peter’s life on mine through this electronic means, as impersonal as it might be, hoping that my remembrance will be shared with his family and friends.
Were it not for Peter, I would not have joined the Peace Corps immediately upon graduation. His experience in Cote d’Ivoir with Crossroads Africa greatly whetted my appetite to travel abroad and to see America from a new, detached perspective.
Were it not for Peter, I would not have met Martin Luther King, who visited Yale as a scholar during our senior year, when Peter very kindly included me as his guest. The impact of that brief luncheon, and my witnessing the reaction of workers in the cafeteria at Jonathan Edwards College, instantly altered my perspective on the meaning of civil rights and the blindness of my upbringing.
Were it not for Peter, I would not have spent much of my life tutoring kids in language arts, since his passion was the power of the written word. Both of us were reporters for the Yale Daily News, and I learned more about editing from Peter than anyone else, as we produced an article on educational reform based on a report from the president of Harvard. Peter was a master of the written expression, and I was his unwitting apprentice.
Were it not for Peter, I would not have become an advocate for cross-cultural education and the benefits of immersion learning. Impressed with his high school experiences in Japan, and the fact that he produced a book on that excursion, Junket to Japan, I became determined to arrange similar travel for each of our own kids, and often referred to his remarkable volume in our family discussions.
Were it not for Peter, I would not have indelible memories of seeing snow for the first time in New England, in Gloucester, in sledding down a hill behind his home, learning about his enterprising family business, “Out of Gloucester” clothing, visiting Fanuiel Hall, and in gaining an appreciation for New England humor.
Were it not for Peter, I would not have participated in the “Yale in Washington” program during the first summer of the Kennedy administration, in 1961. I worked for the State Department, and we had incredible access via weekly seminars with key players in the New Frontier. It was through this forum that I met “Sarge” Shriver and was invited to join the Peace Corps as soon as I graduated, and appointed to represent the fledgling agency in Connecticut throughout my senior year.
And, were it not for Peter, I would likely never have met my wife, Kitty, at Stanford, in the fall of 1964. I was visiting Peter in New York after wrapping up my two years in Peru, and was soon to head out to California to begin graduate studies. Peter, ever the thoughtful person he was, said, “Ken, when you get out to Palo Alto, you might look up Diane Nagel,” and gave me her phone number. Diane was a girl Peter had dated at Smith, and the daughter of his boss then, at the Ford Foundation. So, about a week later, I called the number. However, Diane was out but her roommate, another “Smithie,” Kitty, was “in.” We had a great conversation and decided to meet for coffee the next day, in front of the Stanford Bookstore. I took one look at her, and somehow knew that “this woman is going to be the mother of my children.” Two years later we got married and in June will celebrate our 48th anniversary – all thanks to a seemingly random contact provided by Peter!
I didn’t see Peter for the next 48 years, until our 50th class reunion at Yale, and he never knew until then the instrumental role he had played in our family’s personal life. Fortunately, we agreed to have breakfast that Sunday in Freshman Commons, and I got to meet Karen, and Peter, Kitty. We had a marvelous visit, and it was like time had never passed, as we instantaneously picked up on the joys of each other’s lives and the remarkable parallels that marked their course.
Peter was truly a gentleman, a kind and gentle soul, who was a world-class visionary with hometown virtues. He was so distinguished in the life he lived and his professional accomplishments. He set the bar high in so many ways, but mostly, he was just one of the most decent persons one could ever meet.
Kitty and I send our sincere condolences to Karen, Peter’s children and grandchildren, and to his “sibs” and their families in Massachusetts and beyond. We will all miss him terribly, but his memory and legacy will brighten our days as long as we live.
Aloha from Hawaii, to my dear friend and intrepid mentor, my life-guide extraordinaire, Peter D. Bell.
22 APR 2014"
"Tribute by Chris Stone on Open Society Foundation website:
"I served under Peter, during his entire ten-tenure as was the President of CARE. During that time, Peter helped CARE to think more strategically and act more in line with its values.
He helped to organize and participated in a global CARE conference, reviewing world-wide trends, and helped strengthened CARE-wide strategic planning processes. He strived to embed CARE's and general human rights values in our work. Peter was the the first one to notice, at a our planning conference which defined CARE Core Values (Respect, Integrity, Commitment, Excellence), that they stood for RICE, an very important staple for many of the people for whom CARE worked. He also pressed for what CARE called a “Rights Based” approach to development and relief. He made a positive contribution to CARE, as he apparently did to many other organizations.
He also reflected this thoughtful and values-based approach in the other parts of this life and interactions with other people. He will be missed."
In Memory of Peter Bell
This weekend the universe shifted to make way for Peter Bell’s soul.
Peter served as a member of Bernard van Leer Foundation’s Board of Trustees for over a decade, ending his service just last June. We were so lucky! Peter brought commitment to the mission, wisdom to our deliberations and a moral clarity on all issues big and small. I personally will not only always remember him for this clarity, but will continually strive to exemplify it in my own life. Peter served young children through BvLF which was just one stop in a career of service oriented toward the greater good, from the youngest citizen to the eldest. Peter was a person who when he saw a good fight, got in it.
When I was first asked to join Bernard van Leer, Peter was part of the selection committee. He was a mentor to a number of people in senior positions at the Ford Foundation, all to whom I reported. I made the usual queries amongst my bosses and the stories came pouring out: how Peter had stood up to the CIA and saved a number of lives in Latin America while he served through a period of dirty wars; how Peter had forced the hand of the Reagan appointed neo conservatives at the Inter-American Foundation while he served there; how Peter had grown CARE; how Peter put principle before politics. Each story was larger than the last.
It was a bit intimidating to think that I would be reporting to this icon of social justice. However, Peter was not only highly principled, but a true gentleman. He spoke with great deliberation, never hasty, never responding to the pressure to be quick. He created space in difficult conversations with this slow deliberate pace which ultimately served the process of making decisions well. And should one become impatient, he had a great sense of humour. He told an age appropriate joke to my children one day which I have now heard countless times as it delighted them to no end.
"If a male donkey is an ‘’ass’’ what is a female donkey? An asset!"
True to form, it was a pun. Anyone who has ever reported to Peter will know, Peter has an exacting eye, ever active on the search for the correct use of the English language. This was one of the good fights he revelled in. Besting Peter on a grammar point was impossible.
Peter left his mark on everyone at Van Leer. Colleagues will certainly have a great deal to say about travelling with Peter and Karen and their appetite for the most difficult field trips, their patience to hear each and every voice, and the programmatic improvements which came about through their observations.
But I wish to express something a bit more personal about Peter. The Bell family is from a small fishing village in New England made famous by the Perfect Storm story. When Peter first told me that he was from Gloucester he instilled a great comfort within me. Gloucester is so close to home that as a girl I used to envy the kids from Gloucester because they always got the most ‘snow days’. I would be standing next to the radio, praying to hear school cancelled in Providence and even when Providence was not mentioned, Gloucester was. The idea that Peter and I come from the same region, and that he had found his way home after many, many years abroad was so comforting. He was living proof that roots create values. For wandering global spirits like me, Peter instilled this sense that home is something we carry within us. This is how Peter became such a mentor for so many people. Not by word, but by deed and through his very presence.
As the messages are pouring in from all over the world, they all have one theme and that is that everyone who knew Peter has this to say: ‘We were so lucky to have had time with him.’ And that is exactly how it feels, as if through sheer luck we were able to share a bit of his universe. Peter embodied wisdom, courage and humility. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to learn from him. Everyone at Bernard van Leer will miss him.
Peter, I apologize for any grammar errors or lack of clarity that you may find in this message."
A Farewell to Peter Bell, an NGO Leader and Dear Friend
Last week the U.S. NGO community lost a friend and leader, Peter Bell, who in his lifetime helped shape the concept and direction of global NGOs. As the president and CEO of CARE for a decade, Peter had the opportunity to steer an organization that makes a difference in the lives of countless people, and for years after he continued to influence the work of NGOs as a thought leader. I was fortunate to know him as both a mentor and dear friend.
Peter was convinced that eliminating extreme poverty was within our grasp – a conviction he held a decade before it became an accepted global target. This was not simply a dream of his; it was based on a life of experience. For Peter, the possibility of eliminating extreme poverty was a matter of good development practice, effective organizations working together, and the right amount of political will. Time and our collective efforts can still prove him right.
As a senior research fellow at the Hauser Institute for Civil Society, Peter was interested in the evolving role of humanitarian NGOs. How should we evolve to become more effective institutions - ones that better support men, women and children around the world to rebuild from disaster and conflict? Even as Peter applied his keen mind and decades of experience to this question, he always went a step further. How can global humanitarians radically evolve and yet remain true to their core principles? To me, the answer depends on the ability and integrity of individual leaders, like Peter, and the staff they inspire.
For well over a decade, Peter participated in and then led the NGO Leaders Forum, a biannual CEO retreat where we shared thoughts and experiences and shaped a common agenda. But to Peter, running an effective global NGO was not simply a technocratic or leadership challenge. It was, as one tribute to Peter noted, also about politics for him.
Peter and Sherine S. Jayawickrama, in a 2011 publication they co-authored called The Role of Humanitarian NGOs in Multilateral Diplomacy, wrote: “There was a day when most U.S.-based transnational NGOs, including philanthropies like the Ford Foundation and relief and development organizations like CARE, regarded themselves as apolitical. Indeed, it was a basic tenet of their credos. But most sophisticated NGOs now recognize that clinging to that belief can actually cause harm, however inadvertently.”
All of us in the NGO community will experience Peter’s legacy for years to come, in the way we do our work and in the way we seek to improve it. What we will miss greatly, myself included, is his kindness and his vision. On behalf of the InterAction community my condolences go out to Peter's wife, Karen, and his children, Jonathan and Emily."
"Helen and I are so sad at the loss of Peter. We have known him only in the last five years and it was a pleasure and a privilege to have his friendship. He was so warm and gentle. I was also always impressed and delighted to hear his professional work, his accomplishments and knowledge of so many parts of the world. We will miss him so much, and I will also miss the tennis games and chats on summer afternoons in Bass Rocks."
"Peter was the President of CARE during much of my time with CARE. I recall how he carried the organisation from being an aid delivery agent to one that cared for human dignity. This was a profound shift that was the mark of the man. Under Peter's guidance, many of us grew to become thinking practitioners. He has left a mark that will last. His testament must include the thoughtful moral imperative that so many of his team now carry with them, and continue."
"I’ve known Peter since he was entering his teens and I was leaving mine. We met in Gloucester in the 1950s; my uncle was married to Peter’s maternal grandmother—they were living in Rockport at the time. In a real sense I could say that we were related. When I was in college in Massachusetts, I escaped to Rockport and Gloucester, where the Bell family could not have been more welcoming. Peter treated me with characteristic kindness, considering I was older and in a position of possible authority. He toured me around and taught me about life in a fishing town, foreign to someone from inland Colorado. And he could do a wicked imitation of Edith Piaff.
From the time he published Junket to Japan, I, and later my husband, followed Peter’s distinguished career. We were pleased and honored to know him, though we regrettably did not meet that often. When we did, it was as if only a few weeks had passed, not years.
Peter had a direct way of looking at you and the gift of listening, as if you had just said something very important. The last time we met, he gave us a tour of the impressive Cape Ann Museum, of which he was justly proud as was his father Hal before him.
We are saddened and diminished by Peter’s passing. Our heartfelt condolences to Karen, and the Bell family.
Love, Alice and Craig Gilborn"
"Article in Atlanta-Journal Constitution:
"Peter accomplished so much, but it was his humility, kindness and warmth that will be remembered forever. It was an honor to know him and work with him at CARE and he leaves a lasting legacy of inspiration for anyone who hopes they can do even a little bit to make the world a better place."
"My heart is sad at the loss of Peter. I think of Peter with a smile (since you really get to know someone working alongside them at CARE for 10 years!). I think of his many yellow-lined pads, blue shirts for traveling, yellow rain slicker and his distinctive laugh! We all became better writers due to Peter and his love of commas, semicolons, etc. There are so many other memories that I will always cherish. My thoughts are with all of you."
"I have known Peter since the last few years; met with him few times - in New Delhi, India the first time, then twice in Atlanta and remained in touch with through email contact and spoke with him couple of time when I was in the US. He was a wonderful human being, a very pleasant person with a golden heart. He has encouraged me with my project of collecting memories of former CARE people. When he saw the collected stories circulated among CARE people, he gave me a wonderful review and introduction of the collection of the stories. A very good friend, he will be missed always. May he rest in peace.
Cheenu - Srinnivasan
"Peter was a member of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School Graduate Class of 1964. There were only 24 of us. I am deeply saddened by Peter's passing.
We studied at Princeton during the new and exciting Kennedy Administration. When Princeton sent a group of us to Mexico to conduct summer research projects in 1963, Peter chose to decamp to a rural area to study the ejido system (cooperative farms), while most of us stayed in the more cosmopolitan confines of Mexico City. I remember that some of us traveled to the hinterlands to see him and to learn about his research. During that summer, we had an opportunity to see many parts of Mexico when Pemex provided us transportation on their corporate plane. I still have the Tampico newspaper which featured a photo of the Princeton students on the front page under the banner headline: "Tecnicos de E.U. Arrive in Tampico." Peter was in the center of the photo.
Later, when I was on active military duty in 1966, the U.S. Army sent me on a special mission to Brazil. There, again, I spent time with Peter and learned about his Ford Foundation activities. Peter joined his Princeton classmates at many Princeton reunions, but the best occasion was when he was awarded the prestigious Madison Medal by Princeton in 2003. I organized a dinner of classmates in his honor on the eve of his receiving the award. Peter will be greatly missed by so many. I offer sincere condolences to his family.
David Kessler, M.P.A. Class of 1964"
"Peter and I met first (in 2001?) at the Van Leer Group Foundation Board in the Netherlands. I quickly discovered his passion for the work we did through the Bernard van Leer Foundation. Supporting the development of young kids in less favored situations.
Peter was an icon for BvLF in the aids HIV work. His way of chairing the Joint Learning Initiative, became a best practice. Still followed around other domains. I will never forget his emotions after a field visit to child mothers (Louisiana) in his own home country. To know the poverty of some is different from seeing it. He felt also ashamed for his fellow citizens, not being capable to solving those problems.
In his board work, we got to know him as modest, but persistent. In an international board it is not always easy to recognize the respective styles. But we all learned to listen carefully when Peter made his contributions. Always wise, always showing the way to solutions. Always value driven.
We also got to know each others partner and family. Peter and Karen became our friends. We stayed in each others houses, made some trips together.
We saw how much Peter and Karen loved their close as well as their extended family. I remember the tears in his eyes when the first grandchild was born, and also the way in which he introduced my husband Jan and myself into his Gloucester family circles.
Being a politician , he and I spoke of course many times about politics. We mailed at election times. Peter was so delighted and proud when Obama was elected. And with the law providing care to all.
I learned through Karen how different campaigning is in the US from the Netherlands. Peter admired her perseverant work for the democratic party. Turning their home into a call centre, occasionally...
It was such a privilege to know him and Karen and to share so many discussions and interests. He is not among us anymore, but his spirit will survive through us. Trude Maas- de Brouwer"
"I worked with Peter for five years at the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation. I loved his positive approach to any problem. Helping the world become a better place was what he always had in mind. Nothing less would do, no matter the challenges involved. His approach was contagious for the many people who were lucky enough to call him a colleague. I am a better and more optimistic person for having known Peter. I wish I could have told him that before he died."
"Peter was a most impressive high school classmate. There was no doubt about his future success. Peter's selfless service to humanity sets the example for others to follow.
Well done, Sir. Be thou at peace"
"Dear Bell Family,
I met Peter only briefly at the Memorial for Karen's Dad. I was impressed with both Peter and Karen. My thoughts are with each of you at this time of remembering Peter. I loved perusing the pictures and reading the comments from others. I am very pleased that you let me know. This is a lovely way to remember your husband and father."
"Tribute by the ONE Campaign:
"Peter being a great visionary of our time was a true friend of poor and suffering human being. I had the privileged in coming in close contact with Peter as a Care Sate Diurector following the Odisha (India) Super Cyclone.Peter arrived while we were on to relief response and was with the State team till mid night guiding us to do our best for restoring the dignity of the affected. His words every time reaches one's heart. Care's response was appreciated all across India. Peter came back once again and personally invited me and my wife to visit Atlanta HQ and share our experience in the board room. Peter will remain in the hearts of every Care person those who came in his contact for a while."
"It was my privilege to meet Peter and to know him as we journeyed to Japan in 1957. We were in the group of 9 to be the first AFS exchange students to Japan. We spent a total of 4 weeks together on the ship, going and coming, plus we met many times in Japan. I found Peter to be extremely knowledgeable, even then. He was gentle and fun to be with. I sensed his kind and compassionate nature. I admired him greatly then and his career has never been a surprise to me. He has been the same from beginning to end. I'm very, very sorry and sad to think I shall never see him again. My sincere sympathy to all of his family and friends! With love and affection forever. Elizabeth"
"Peter was the dearest of men, incredibly accomplished, and just as incredibly accessible. A man who could carry the heaviest of burdens with the lightest of spirit. In the short period of time that I had the privilege and pleasure of Peter's company, he became a treasured friend for me. I will miss him, and think about him often. Much love to you, Peter."
"One of the brightest lights in the Gloucester High Class of 1958 has been extinguished. Peter was destined for success - quite a legacy serving the global community."
"Although I did not work directly with Peter, I always appreciated his demeanor and friendliness during my tenure with CARE (1999-2009). Peter remembered everyone's name and always came out to talk to all employees of the organization - no matter what role they played. He had a profound effect on me as a colleague, manager and employee. He will be missed."
"Bell Family,A life well lived and traveled thoughts and prayers to all."
"Peter left his mark on everyone he met. He was judicious, careful, always well-thought-out, and always there to give advice and to help other people run their organizations better. He was both global and local, with a wide international reach, but completely rooted in the part of the world he came from. I knew him because he was a member of the Van Leer board that supports my organization, the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. I would sometimes turn to him for counsel, and he was always ready with truly helpful thoughts. We will miss him sorely. Gabriel Motzkin"
"The International Center for Research on Women, the Inter-American Dialogue, Bernard Van Leer Foundation and CARE published tributes to Peter:
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