Commissioners Bell Retire from Active Officership
By: Dan Childs
For Commissioners Don and Debi Bell, the welcome of the Messengers of Compassion was the perfect setting for their retirement ceremony Sept. 9 at the Atlanta Temple Corps. It was a moment to celebrate the fact that as veteran officers pass from active service, new cadets are stepping forward to take their own places in the ranks.
General André Cox performed the ceremony of retirement for the Bells, who have served as the USA South’s territorial commander and territorial president of women’s ministries since November 2013. The Bells’ retirement ceremony took place during the public welcome service of the Messengers of Compassion Sept. 9 at the Atlanta Temple Corps.
As the Messengers of Compassion sessional flag was presented, Commissioner Don Bell, touched by the emotion of the moment, said, “We thought it was appropriate to have our retirement at the welcome of the cadets, because we are passing the flag.”
The celebration of the Bells’ combined 80 years of officership carried over into Saturday morning’s brunch at Southern Territorial Headquarters. Themed “To God Be the Glory … Together,” the gathering included song, Scripture and words of tribute from friends they have served with along the way, as well as the reflections of Commissioners Bell titled “Great Things He Hath Taught Us” and “Great Things He Hath Done.”
The Bells’ official retirement date is Oct. 31. They will be succeeded by Colonels Willis and Barbara Howell, who currently serve as chief secretary and territorial women’s ministries secretary in the New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga Territory – the territory that was commanded by the Bells before their appointment as Southern territorial leaders four years ago.
Under the territorial commander’s leadership, the South has committed to the Pathway of Hope initiative in an effort to defeat intergenerational poverty. Pathway of Hope began in 2015 and continues to grow throughout the territory. Commissioner Bell has also stressed a renewed commitment to the Southern Territorial Mission Statement, formulated and endorsed by territorial leadership in 2003 during the administration of Commissioner Phil Needham. The territorial commander was the driving force behind the opening of the Social Justice Research Center in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2016.
Commissioner Debi Bell has emphasized the creation of opportunities for women in Salvation Army leadership roles, organizing the landmark We Will conference in Orlando in 2016. She has also been a strong proponent of the territory’s Moral and Social Issues Council, and her literary ministry has included her support for developing and publishing Southern authors.
The Bells will retire to Surprise, Arizona, a community on the outskirts of Phoenix, in the Western Territory, where their journeys began. Commissioner Don Bell was commissioned in 1978 out of Spokane, Washington. He graduated from the University of California at Davis and Gonzaga University in Spokane with a juris doctorate degree. He attended the International College for Officers in London and has been a member of a variety of professional associations and service clubs. He was awarded a Paul Harris Fellowship by the San Diego Rotary Club and served as the Pacific Southwest regional chaplain of the Navy League.
Commissioner Debi Bell’s portal into The Salvation Army was the Girl Guards. After growing up in west Texas, she entered officer training from Hobbs, New Mexico, and was commissioned by the Western Territory in 1977. She served on the national board for “AD 2000 and Beyond,” was a founding member of two significant prayer groups and led one of the largest and most successful women’s auxiliaries in the U.S. In 2001, she was nominated for “Women Who Mean Business.” She is the author of four books.
Prior to their leadership appointments in the South and New Zealand-Fiji-Tonga, the Bells served as chief secretary and territorial women’s ministries secretary in the USA West. They also served for more than 35 years in ministerial and administrative positions with The Salvation Army in California, Arizona and at National Headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia.
The Bells, who were married in January 1979, are enthusiastic travelers and have visited all 50 states, five American territories and 30 nations in North America, Central America, Africa, Asia and Europe.