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Terrel Bell
2nd United States Secretary of Education

In office
January 22, 1981 – December 31, 1984
President Ronald Reagan
Preceded by Shirley Hufstedler
Succeeded by Bill Bennett
United States Commissioner of Education

In office
June 1974 – July 1976
President Richard Nixon
Gerald Ford
Preceded by John Ottina
Succeeded by Edward Aguirre
Personal details
Born Terrel Howard Bell
(1921-11-11)November 11, 1921
Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, U.S.
Died June 22, 1996(1996-06-22) (aged 74)
Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Betty Fitzgerald
Children 4
Alma mater Idaho State University
University of Idaho, Moscow
University of Utah
Military service
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
Rank USMC-E5.svg Sergeant
Battles/wars World War II

Terrel Howard Bell (November 11, 1921 – June 22, 1996) was the Secretary of Education in the Cabinet of President Ronald Reagan. He is the first man to have become Secretary of Education.

Early life and career[edit | edit source]

Bell was born in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, on November 11, 1921. When Bell was eight years old, his father died.[1] Bell graduated from the Albion State Normal School in Idaho. After this he served as a school superintendent of various schools in Idaho and Wyoming.

Bell spent much of his professional career in Utah. He served as a sergeant in the Marines during World War II and returned to Idaho to get his education. After earning a B.A. from the Southern Idaho College of Education in Albion in 1946, Bell started a career as a high school teacher and bus driver.

On August 1, 1957, Bell married the former Betty Ruth Fitzgerald, with whom he had four sons: Mark F., Warren T., Glenn M. and Peter F. Bell. He later earned an M.A. from the University of Idaho in 1954, and a Ph.D. in education from the University of Utah in 1961. Bell also served as Utah's Commissioner of Higher Education. He was the superintendent of Weber School District in Utah from 1958-1962.

National Commissioner of Education[edit | edit source]

Bell served as the United States Commissioner of Education (prior to the creation of the cabinet position) under Presidents Nixon and Ford from 1974 to 1976.

U.S. Secretary of Education[edit | edit source]

Appointed to the Reagan cabinet, Bell was expected to preside over the dismantling of the Department of Education, but he ran into the legal requirement that such a dismantling required legislation. He was well-known, admired, and respected in education circles, having risen from high school teacher through college professor to administrative positions. Bell stood out as a humble man in an administration of moneyed people—he drove a U-Haul truck from Utah to Washington when he moved.[citation needed]

In 1981, Bell convinced Reagan to appoint a commission to study excellence in education. The 1983 report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, titled A Nation at Risk, started the drive for education reform with its conclusions, which included the claim that the nation was threatened by "a rising tide of mediocrity."[2]

Resignation and later life[edit | edit source]

Though education's importance was highlighted by the reform drive, Reagan continued to try to reduce funding at the Department of Education. Bell served for Reagan's first term, resigning effective December 31, 1984.[3][4] He returned to Utah, and joined the faculty at the University of Utah. In 1988, he published his memoir entitled The Thirteenth Man: A Reagan Cabinet Memoir.

Bell published seven other books during his career, covering topics such as improving child intellectual development and reforming the educational process. His last book in 1993, written with his business partner Dr. Donna Elmquist at his nonprofit company T.H. Bell and Associates in Salt Lake City, made new recommendations for improving the US education system.

"There are three things to emphasize in teaching: The first is motivation, the second is motivation, and the third is (you guessed it) motivation." Terrel H. Bell, U.S. Secretary of Education, 1981–1985 (Bell, 1995)

Bell died of pulmonary fibrosis in Salt Lake City, Utah, on June 22, 1996. He is interred in Larkin Sunset Gardens in Sandy, Utah.

Terrel H. Bell Award[edit | edit source]

The Department of Education gives an award named after Bell to recognize "outstanding school leaders and the vital role they play in overcoming challenging circumstances." On November 3, 2009 the award was given to eight U.S. public school principals. Concurrent with the award, the Department issued a press release which stated, "The late Secretary Terrel H. Bell held education as his highest priority, trusting that all students would find it their personal key to success as he had."[5]

References[edit | edit source]

Political offices
Preceded by
John Ottina
United States Commissioner of Education
Succeeded by
Edward Aguirre
Preceded by
Shirley Hufstedler
United States Secretary of Education
Succeeded by
Bill Bennett

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