Clarence Elmo Bell (1912–1997)
Clarence Elmo Bell was a prominent public school educator as well as a longtime, influential member of the Arkansas Senate. He announced his retirement just prior to the state’s adoption of constitutionally mandated term limits.
Clarence Bell was born on February 1, 1912, in Camden (Ouachita County). The son of Joseph Dudley Bell and Dona Massengale Bell, he grew up in Camden and graduated from Camden High School, where he was a star athlete. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from what is now Ouachita Baptist University (OBU), where he continued to shine athletically. Graduating in 1934, he spent the following year working as assistant coach and Dean of Men at OBU.
In 1935, Bell left Ouachita to become the high school principal and head coach at Parkin (Cross County). After four years, he accepted an offer to become head coach and classroom teacher at Marked Tree (Poinsett County). He married Hope Raney on August 16, 1936, and the couple had a son and two daughters.
Bell attended graduate school in the summers, earning a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) in 1940. In 1941, Parkin offered him the position of superintendent of schools. While World War II loomed, Bell apparently secured a military deferment, given his young family and the importance of his occupation on the homefront. He continued as superintendent at Parkin until his retirement in 1963. At that point, he moved into the business world, accepting a job as a community and industrial relations representative with the Arkansas Louisiana Gas Company (Arkla). In 1972, he became a member of the company’s board of directors.
Bell was active in town affairs as well as the broader educational community. In addition to serving as president of the local Rotary Club, he also headed the Eastern Arkansas Schoolmasters’ Club, the Cross County Teacher Association, and the Department of School Administration of the Arkansas Education Association.
In 1956, running as a Democrat, Bell was elected to the first of nine terms in the Arkansas Senate. With Parkin as his political base, Bell would ultimately serve for thirty-six years, from 1957 to 1993, and his lengthy tenure made him the most senior member of the Senate when he decided not to run for reelection in 1992.
As a state senator, Bell, who was affectionately known as “Coach,” became a well-respected leader, serving at one point as the Senate president pro tempore, while also having a lengthy tenure as the chairman of the Senate’s Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee. He was also a leading spokesman for education, heading the Senate’s Education Committee for many years.
In September 1965, he represented Arkansas at a national conference convened in response to a call to action by former Harvard University president James B. Conant to help chart a new direction for the nation’s schools. At the conference in Kansas City, Missouri—which included representatives from all fifty states, almost a dozen of whom were state governors—efforts began to develop the Compact for Education, a partnership between political and business leaders. Bell was named to the Interim Planning and Steering Committee for the group, whose efforts would later be seen when the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson pioneered a greater federal role in the nation’s educational efforts. Bell was also appointed a delegate to the proposed 1975 Arkansas state constitutional convention.
Bell decided not to seek reelection in 1992. He died on April 29, 1997; his wife died on July 30. They are buried in the Roselawn Memorial Park in Little Rock (Pulaski County).
For additional information:
Chowning, Robert W. History of Cross County, Arkansas 1955. Wynne, AR: Wynne Progress, 1955.
“The Compact for Education.” Education Commission of the States. http://www.ecs.org/ec-content/uploads/Compact-for-Education-Dec1965.pdf (accessed September 20, 2016).
“Senate Resolution Commending Senator Clarence E. Bell for His Lifetime of Distinguished Public Service.” Arkansas State Legislature. ftp://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/bills/1992S2/SR3.pdf (accessed September 20, 2016).
William H. Pruden III
Last Updated: 01/25/2017