Police chief dies

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Funeral is 2 p.m. Saturday at MCHS

By Stephen Lega

UPDATE: The funeral for Lebanon Police Chief Joe Bell will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 11, at Marion County High School.

Bell died Monday, June 6, at Taylor County Hospital, where he was undergoing prostate surgery. He was 58.

Bosley Funeral Home is in charge of funeral arrangements. Visitation at the funeral home will be at 4 p.m. Friday, June 10. Public visitation will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday at the high school. The service is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. He is to be buried in the St. Augustine Cemetery.

Lebanon Police Chief Joe Bell died Monday, June 6, at Taylor Regional Hospital. He was 58.

Bell was at the hospital for prostate surgery and died on the operating table, Assistant Chief Wally Brady said.

"He's been a good friend, and he would always do anything for you," Brady said. "Our department is in total shock right now."

Lebanon Mayor Gary Crenshaw learned of Bell's passing during a phone call from one of Bell's relatives around 2 p.m. Monday. Crenshaw said he knew that Bell had some health issues, but he did not think any were considered life-threatening.

"It was a shock to me," Crenshaw said. "I'm just kind of stunned."

Bell joined the Lebanon Police Department in 1975. During his career, he served as a patrol officer, sergeant, and acting chief on three occasions before he was appointed chief in March of 2010, becoming the first African-American to lead the department. According to Crenshaw, Bell was as good as any of the chiefs he's worked with.

"He was as honest as the day is long," Crenshaw said.

Bell previously applied to become police chief when his predecessor, Shelton Young, had been appointed to the position, and Bell was always a gentlemen even when he was not appointed, Crenshaw said. Likewise, Crenshaw recalled that Bell seemed surprised when he learned he would be appointed chief in 2010, but he promised that he would do a great job.

"He was a humble man," Crenshaw said.

Shortly after he was hired as the police chief, Bell told the Enterprise, "Fairness is going to be the main thing. Everything else will fall in line from there."

Lebanon City Administrator John O. Thomas worked with Bell for 24 years. He said Bell was a good officer who knew how to work with the public, and he added that Bell did an admirable job as the police chief.

"He was a friend and we'll miss him," Thomas said.

In addition to serving the city as a police officer, Bell worked with the youth of the community through sports. He was the president of the Marion County Youth Football program for several years. He also served as a coach for Marion County Little League baseball and softball, and served on the local Little League board for years.

"He was like a great, big teddy bear," Young said. "If it had to do with kids, he was there doing it."

Young said he and Bell worked together for 32 years and became close friends. He said Bell was probably the first or second person he spoke to after he joined the Lebanon Police Department. Coincidentally, sports were one of the things that brought them together. Bell liked to box, and shortly after Young was hired, Bell took him to the old fire department for a sparring session.

As an officer, Bell's best quality was his presence, according to Young.

"Just the mere fact that Joe was standing there solved a lot of problems and diffused a lot of situations," he said.

Young added that this was because of the respect people had for Bell and how he related to people. Bell was always smiling and laughed easily, and he could relate to anyone, Young said. Yet, as much as he admired Bell as an officer, Young said he will miss him more as a friend.

"It'll be a great loss to the community," Young said.

Bell was coaching when Joe Drye served as the president of the Marion County Little League.

"Wherever there was a ball being bounced or hit around, Joe Bell was there," Drye said.

He described Bell as a "super nice" guy who has been involved with a variety of youth sports as long as he can remember.

"There's been people come and go, but as far as I know, Joe never left," Drye said.

He added that Bell will be greatly missed and should be honored for his contributions to local youth sports.

 "When the state tournament comes to Lebanon, we ought to have a moment of silence for him," Drye said. "I don't know that anyone around Little League had more impact than Joe Bell."