Following the death of contractor and civic activist Ray Bell on Saturday, leading voices in and beyond Nashville have spoken out in tribute:
Ray Bell was a great man who was passionate about and dedicated to many things. He was passionate about his family and friends…. He was passionate about his business…. He was passionate about politics and the candidates and elected officials in whom he believed…. He was passionate about those non-profits where he gave so generously of time, money, and efforts to gain support of those causes from his many friends.
In all those aspects of life, and in so many more, he was phenomenally successful. He truly made a difference in the lives of a huge number of people. All of us who knew Ray are better because of his being a part of our lives. The public good to which he was so dedicated, and which he supported in so many ways, was well served because of this extraordinary man and his passion and commitment. He will be deeply missed by many.
— Aubrey Harwell, attorney, Neal & Harwell PLC
As Ray Bell’s CPA for almost 20 years, I saw a side to him that much of the public did not see. Ray felt that his rough and hard-driving persona gave him a competitive advantage in the construction industry — most people saw this side of him. Unknown to many was the other Ray Bell: He loved art, history and music and was probably one of the most well-read men in Tennessee. Ray’s passion for life; his generosity toward charities, employees and the less fortunate; along with his love of government, politics and his country made him one of the most influential men in Nashville’s history.
One of the many lessons I learned from Ray Bell was the appreciation and respect he had for his opponents or competitors. Ray was disappointed in the divisiveness and rhetoric in today’s political world. Ray truly believed that his political opponents always wanted what was best for the state and country; they just disagreed on the method. If Ray’s issue was voted down or candidate was defeated, he was the first to offer his help and assistance to the victor. He was a great American and believed in the democratic process.
— Robert Davidson, Davidson, Golden & Lundy P.C.
Mr. Bell was a wise man. He was good for Nashville and the State of Tennessee. He will be missed.
— E. J. Boyson, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney
Ray Bell was generous of heart, spirit and resources. Many times over the years as a community volunteer I would call on Ray, and he would always take my call cheerfully, listen intently then write the check. Ray's quick smile and affection for his friends was inspiring. It would not surprise me to know he is already at work building a new staircase to heaven.
— Nan Parrish, community volunteer
The Board and staff at the Tennessee State Museum are greatly saddened by the passing away of longtime Museum Foundation Chairman and Board Member, Ray Bell, which represents the end of an era in the Museum’s contemporary history.
With few exceptions, no single individual has done more in the past quarter of a century to advance the goals and the mission of the State Museum and its Foundation. It is virtually impossible to sum up Ray Bell in one paragraph. But, if you knew him at all, then you know what a phenomenal champion he was for this institution, which he often described as his “favorite board.” An incredibly committed leader and an unparalleled fundraiser and friend-raiser, Mr. Bell was a rock, a fighter, and a teddy bear, all rolled into one. He could even be a bit scary at times — precisely the trait which made him so commanding in any task he undertook. He was absolutely larger than life — incomparable, irrepressible, irresistible, irreplaceable and almost immortal. As we mourn his passing, we look back upon his faithful friendship with fondness and his great generosity with gratitude, while celebrating the memory of his remarkable spirit with unrivaled reverence.
— Lois Riggins-Ezzell, Executive Director, Tennessee State Museum
As a competitor to Ray Bell in the construction business, I always admired Ray's tireless commitment to our industry, the community, our local, state and national government and to his friends. Ray always represented himself and his company in the most professional manner. He made great things happen with his construction business and made Nashville a better place for generations to come.
We will all miss Ray Bell as a businessman and friend!
— Tom Raney, Senior Vice President, R. J. Griffin & Company, Atlanta
I just wanted to say a few words regarding the passing of my father, Ray Bell.
My father was my hero, my mentor, and most importantly, my best friend.
He was my hero for constructing so many amazing buildings across the skyline of the city he loved, Nashville. Like all heroes he was courageous and driven. He didn’t look for what was easy in life, he loved a challenge: the bigger the better. The best motivator for Ray was telling him it couldn’t be done. He was my mentor for instilling in me the intense enthusiasm for business, construction, philanthropy, and people that was his passion in life. Every second I was with him I learned something profound and valuable. He never said the obvious and made you think hard and look deep within yourself. This was the key to understanding Ray: character. He was very old fashioned when it came to the importance of integrity of character. Your handshake was your handshake. Your word was your word. Who you are is the most important thing in life, and this is why he was such a great mentor to me.
Finally, he was my best friend. The last nine years working with him at Bell Construction were the best times of my life. Relationships were very important to him, and he was a master at cultivating deep and lasting friendships. He was a rock for many people. Fathers and sons don’t always have the best communication, yet we used to talk for hours like old friends. Because, quite simply, we were.
I speak for the whole family in saying we are devastated at his loss. But we are thankful that he died peacefully and without pain, surrounded by his family that loved him. For someone who gave so much for others, he deserved this solace. You only get one father in life. I am the luckiest guy alive. I got the best one. I’m really going to miss him.
— Darek Bell
Visitation and funeral services for Ray Bell will be held at Brentwood Baptist Church, located at 7777 Concord Road, Brentwood, Tenn., 37027. Visitation will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2010, from 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m., and on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010, from 1-2 p.m., with funeral services taking place from 2-4 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Harris-Hillman Special Education School, 1706 26th Ave., South, Nashville, Tenn. 37212.