Dr. Bell was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the son of the late Dr. Gordon Bell and Grace McEwan (1964). He received his primary education in Winnipeg schools and his medical education at the University of Manitoba. Following his graduation in 1928, he went to London where he carried on with postgraduate studies at Guy’s Hospital, the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases and the National Heart Hospital. In 1930 he attained Membership in the Royal College of Physicians.
Returning to Winnipeg, Dr. Bell engaged in medical research at the University of Manitoba from 1930 to 1932, following which he was appointed Director of the Out-Patients’ Department of the Winnipeg General Hospital, a post which he held until 1949. During the war years, he served with the Royal Canadian Air Force as Medical Consultant for Western Canada, with the rank of Wing-Commander, at the same time continuing his medical teaching and patient-care responsibilities. In recognition of his service in the Air Force, he was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1946.
After 1945, he rose through the academic ranks of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Manitoba, while at the same time he assumed positions of greater responsibility at the Winnipeg General Hospital. This culminated, in 1949, with his appointments as the first full-time Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Professor and Head of the Department of Medicine and Physician-in-Chief at the Winnipeg General Hospital. He held these positions until 1966 when ill-health caused his retirement as Dean Emeritus.
Dr. Bell’s competence as a physician earned him many honours. He was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians of Canada, the Royal College of Physicians of London and the American College of Physicians. He was awarded the honorary degree of LL D by Queen’s University and he was on the Governor-General’s honour list in 1972, receiving the Medal of Service of the Companions of the Order of Canada. He served as Vice-President and Member of the Council of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, as well as being a member of the Medical Advisory Committee of the National Research Council.
With Dr. Bell’s death, Canada lost one of the most distinguished physicians of his generation. Although pre-eminent as a diagnostician, he was primarily dedicated to medical education and in this field he was outstanding. These qualities could, in part, be related to the fact that, as the son of Dr. Gordon Bell, who was a renowned and almost legendary physician in his time, his childhood had been steeped in the atmosphere of Medicine. His father, who was a graduate in 1890 of the newly founded Manitoba Medical College, became in 1897 the first Professor of Bacteriology and Pathology of that medical school as well as the first Provincial Bacteriologist of Manitoba. During the life spans of father and son, the medical college evolved from being a frontier school to one of national repute, each having played a major role in its development.
Dr. Bell was a gifted and popular teacher, with a superb ability to impart essential knowledge. He was never pedantic and above all, never dull. His clinical acumen was remarkable and this, combined with his qualities as a teacher, was an inspiration to his students. He had a wide range of medical knowledge with a photographic memory of former cases, as well as an almost uncanny faculty for appreciating key symptoms and detecting abnormal physical signs.
Dr. Bell often affirmed that the most enjoyable period of his life was when he was in charge of the out-patients at the Winnipeg General Hospital. The earlier part coincided with the height of the Depression during which the physical amenities of the department were primitive. The majority of the patients were in economic trouble and it was his deep concern for their social problems which often developed into a warm personal relationship between doctor and patient.
He was keenly interested in Natural History, as well as being an avid reader of contemporary literature and having a deep love of music. Nothing gave him greater pleasure than sharing these with his friends, who included many students, past and present. He was unmarried.