Born: August 31, 1940
Died: April 4, 2014

Peter D. Bell

Peter D. Bell was born in Gloucester, Massachusetts, son of Harold Bell '36 and Elizabeth Dexter Bell. Peter graduated from Gloucester High School. To the end of his life he maintained a close and special relationship with his hometown, ultimately retiring to Gloucester and repurchasing in 2007 the family home in which he and his wife Karen had been married in 1970.

As he wrote in his essay in our 50th Reunion Book, his "interest in the wider world began in high school. I was awarded an American Field Service scholarship to live for a summer with a Japanese family in Tokyo and was in the first group of American students to go to Japan after World War II. It became clear to me that the Okajimas were seeking to reconcile with America by inviting a young American into their family. And on the anniversary of the atom bombing of Nagasaki, where the Okajimas had once lived, I had an epiphany: I, too, wanted to be a peacemaker."

At Yale Peter was a member of Jonathan Edwards and Book and Snake. He was a reporter and then Senior Editor of the News (1959-1962), a member of The Yale Chapter of American Field Service (co-chairman 1959-1961), and co-founder of the Yale Society for African Affairs (1960-1962).

After sophomore year, he traveled to the Ivory Coast as part of a racially integrated group of American students in a "work camp" organized by Operation Crossroads Africa. He helped the villagers of Lokodjoro build a three-room school out of cinderblocks, witnessed both their extreme poverty and thirst for education, and joined in the country's independence celebration.

His commitment to international development and peace resulted in the award to him of the Hatch Prize at graduation, which was given to a Yale senior "who, motivated by spiritual and ethical considerations, proposes to further his studies of international problems and their peaceful solutions."

After graduation Peter obtained his M.P.A. from Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs in 1964. He also was a paid intern in international security affairs at the Department of Defense. "I learned enough," he wrote, "about American involvement in Vietnam to be deeply troubled." As a consequence, he decided against joining the U.S. Foreign Service and joined the International Division of the Ford Foundation.

Peter spent a challenging, rewarding but tumultuous 12 years with the Ford Foundation including a decade with its Latin American program. In the early years of the military regime in Brazil following the coup of 1964 and in the aftermath of the virulent military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet in Chile in 1973, he helped preserve protected spaces for critical inquiry and to discourage social scientists from going into exile. Two of these academics - Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Ricardo Lagos - went on to become the Presidents of Brazil and Chile, respectively, and remained friends with Peter throughout his life. President Lagos visited Peter and Karen in Gloucester in 2012.

As head of the Ford Foundation in Chile, Peter was declared a "suspicious person" by the Junta. The U.S. Ambassador warned him to leave the county and not return. However, with the support of the Foundation, Peter remained in Chile with Karen and their son, Jonathan, for another nine months. In that time, Peter and colleagues saved the lives and careers of hundreds of Chilean scientists and scholars, many of whom had been detained and tortured. The 1982 Jack Lemmon film "Missing," about an American man who disappeared during the coup, features a character based in part on Peter.

The international response to both the overthrow of the Allende government and the accompanying "disappearances," torture and killings contributed to the genesis of the modern human rights movement. A decade later, Peter became Chair of Americas Watch and eventually a member of the Founding Board of Human Rights Watch. He participated in human rights missions not only to Pinochet's Chile but also to Stroessner's Paraguay, Castro's Cuba, Fujimori's Peru and the drug cartels' Mexico."

After leaving the Ford Foundation, Peter served as Special Assistant and then Deputy Under Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare during the Carter Administration; President of the Inter-American Foundation, supporting grassroots development in Latin America; Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, working toward the return to democracy in Chile and the settlement of the civil war in El Salvador; President of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, improving conditions for people who are poor and disadvantaged in the U.S.; and President of CARE, one of the largest relief and development organizations with over 13,000 staff globally.

In his decade at CARE, Peter helped to transform the organization. He put human dignity and human rights at the center of CARE's work to alleviate poverty, shaping it into a more explicitly principled organization. Peter emphasized the need to go beyond treating the symptoms of poverty to addressing underlying causes. Under his leadership, CARE committed to advancing a vision "of a world of hope, tolerance and social justice, where poverty has been overcome and people live in dignity and security." He argued that extreme poverty could be eliminated in our lifetime.

Following his years at CARE, Peter was a Visiting Fellow at the Carter Center in Atlanta and continued writing and speaking on issues of poverty reduction, international development, human rights and peace making. When he relocated to Gloucester in 2007 Peter was named a Senior Research Fellow at the Hauser Center for Non-Profit Organizations at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He was chair of the NGO Leaders Forum and Co-Chair of the Joint Learning Initiative on Children and HIV/AIDS.

"From my base at the Hauser Center, "he wrote, "I have written and lectured on relations between humanitarian NGOs and the International Criminal Court, the role of NGOs in multilateral diplomacy, and the response to the earthquake in Haiti. I find special satisfaction from mentoring students at the Kennedy School, Woodrow Wilson School and elsewhere who are preparing for a life of public service." He also served as Chair of the Bernard van Leer Foundation in the Hague, Chair Emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Trustee of the World Peace Foundation, a Director of the International Center for Research on Women, a member of the Advisory Board of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard, a member of the Steering Committee for the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, and a Trustee of Rockport Music, an organization dedicated to excellence in classical music and jazz.

Peter received numerous awards and accolades, among them Princeton's Madison Medal, which is the university's highest honor for a graduate alumnus. The medal describes Peter as a "humanitarian and leader in the struggle to give hope and voice to the most vulnerable in this nation and throughout the world." Peter also received an honorary doctorate in international affairs from American University and a gold medal for his service to humanity from the National Institute of Social Sciences.

Peter died in Boston after a 5-month battle with cancer. His wife of 43 years, Karen Neva Bell, survives him as do their two children, Jonathan (wife Veronique) of London and Emily (fiancée David Tyree) of New York City and their two granddaughters, Melanie and Jessica. Four of his siblings also survived him: John of Gloucester, Diana of Palo Alto, David ("J.J.") of Gloucester, and Timothy of Gloucester. His sister Holly Bell Cook predeceased him.

The tributes and encomiums for Peter and his life are too numerous to list. Peter's own words in a 2005 speech and in our 40th Reunion Book provide the most fitting encapsulations of his spirit and unquenchable thirst for peace and justice: "Hang on to your idealism; keep it close to you. Let it be the source of your inspiration and energy. After 40 years of public service, I remain an unreconstructed idealist, wiser perhaps but not the least jaded by my decades of experience... What makes my blood run faster about public service are the opportunities to resolve conflict, to make peace, to bring about justice, to protect the vulnerable, and to support the poor and disadvantaged."

"Reflecting on the years since Yale, I have only an immense feeling of gratitude and fulfillment: I have been able to devote my entire professional life to community service - and to view virtually the whole world as my community."

Obituaries from CARE, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Gloucester Times, and submissions and postings from his daughter Emily and classmates Al Chambers, Ken Harding, Bill Bestor and Ellery McLanahan, in addition to Peter's own essays, provided the sources for this obituary.