Campus & Community

Economist David Bell dies at 81

3 min read
Photo of David E.

David E. Bell, the Clarence James Gamble Professor of Population Sciences and International Health Emeritus, died Sept. 6, 2000, after a brief illness. He was 81.

An economist who served as special assistant under President Truman and as director of the U.S. Bureau of the Budget and of the Agency for International Development (USAID) under President Kennedy, Bell headed the Harvard Advisory Group to Pakistan from 1954 to 1957, an effort that later evolved into the Harvard Institute for International Development (HIID) and more recently the Center for International Development (CID). From 1957 to 1960, he taught economics at Harvard.

In the 1960s and ’70s, Bell led the international work of the Ford Foundation. He returned to Harvard in 1981, becoming director of the Center for Population and Development Studies at the School of Public Health (HSPH). He became emeritus in 1988, but continued to work at the Center on a daily basis, making himself available to students, fellows, and faculty who were able to benefit from his experience and wisdom.

University Provost Harvey Fineberg said of Bell: “David Bell lived a life dedicated to public service and to education. His leadership was the bedrock for programs in population and international health at the School of Public Health and the Center for Population and Development Studies. He was an invaluable guide to a generation of students and to colleagues at every stage of their careers. Anyone privileged to work with him became better by the experience.”

Lincoln Chen, formerly the Taro Takemi Professor of International Health at HSPH and currently executive vice president for program strategy at the Rockefeller Foundation, had this to say of his former colleague:

“David Bell was a supreme global public servant, bringing his talents, skills, and commitments to solving some of the world’s most pressing problems — health, population, economic development. Due to his modesty and despite his extraordinary history of work, David Bell’s contributions are imbedded in the people and institutions he helped create, nurture, and grow. He did little to aggrandize his own name or reputation; indeed, his stature and wisdom were such that it was not necessary.”

Derek Bok, the Three Hundredth Anniversary University Professor and Harvard President Emeritus, called David Bell “one of the finest human beings I have been privileged to know during my 40 years at Harvard. His combination of experience, judgment, compassion, and impeccable ethical standards are simply irreplaceable.”

Born in Jamestown, N.D. in 1919, Bell earned his bachelor’s degree in 1939 from Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., and his master’s degree from Harvard in 1941. His pursuit of a doctoral degree was interrupted when he agreed to direct the Harvard Advisory Group to Pakistan.

A fellowship was established in his honor at the Center in 1991, helping to host fellows with the objective of preparing scholars, managers, and policy makers for leadership roles in developing countries. The David E. Bell Lecture Series was inaugurated in 1999.

He leaves his wife of 56 years, Mary Barry Bell; his daughter, Susan Bell of Putney, VT; his son, Peter Bell of Watertown, MA; his sister, Barbara Bell Dwiggins of San Luis Obispo, CA.; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be announced at a later date. Donations in his memory can be made to the Brattleboro Area AIDS Project, P.O. Box 1486, Brattleboro, VT 05302.