Terrel Bell, 2nd U.S. Secretary of Education

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Terrel Bell, 2nd U.S. Secretary of Education's Geni Profile

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Terrel Howard Bell

Birthplace: Lava Hot Springs, Bannock County, Idaho, United States
Death: June 22, 1996 (74)
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Utah, United States
Place of Burial: Sandy, Salt Lake County, Utah, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Willard Dewain Bell and Alta Ardella Monroe Martin
Husband of Betty Ruth Fitzgerald and Josephine Saunders
Father of Jon Bell

Managed by: Private User
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About Terrel Bell, 2nd U.S. Secretary of Education


Terrel Howard Bell (November 11, 1921 – June 22, 1996) was the Secretary of Education in the Cabinet of President Ronald Reagan. He was the second Secretary of Education, following Shirley Hufstedler.

Early life and career

Bell was born and educated in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho. When Bell was eight his father died. 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 at Albion in 1946, Bell started a career as a high school teacher and bus driver. 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. Prior to serving as the U.S. Secretary of Education under President Reagan, Bell also served as the Utah Commissioner of Higher Education.

National Commissioner of Education

T.H. Bell served as the National Commissioner of Education (prior to the creation of the cabinet position) under presidents Nixon and Ford from the years 1974 - 1976.

U.S. Secretary of Education

Appointed last in the Reagan cabinet, Bell was expected to preside over the dismantling of the Department of Education, but 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, probably the only member of the Reagan cabinet to do so.

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."

Resignation and post-political life

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 in January 1985. 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 (ISBN 0-02-902351-3).

Dr. 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 non-profit company T.H. Bell and Associates in Salt Lake City, made new recommendations for improving the U.S. 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 in Salt Lake City, Utah on June 22, 1996.

Department of Education's "Terrel H. Bell Award"

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 that "[t]he 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."

Note of interest

As the last member of the cabinet to be appointed, Bell was often the one designated to stay at home during the State of the Union Address and other functions, to succeed to the presidency if all others in the chain of succession were incapacitated.

  • Residence: Lava Hot Springs, Bannock, Idaho - 1930
  • Residence: Same House, , - 1935
  • Residence: Lava Hot Springs Election Precinct, Lava Hot Springs, Bannock, Idaho - 1940
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Terrel Bell, 2nd U.S. Secretary of Education's Timeline

November 11, 1921
Lava Hot Springs, Bannock County, Idaho, United States
December 14, 1950
Age 29
Lava Hot Springs, Bannock County, Idaho, United States
June 22, 1996
Age 74
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Utah, United States
June 26, 1996
Age 74
Sandy, Salt Lake County, Utah, United States