James Lackey “Jimmie” Bell was a newspaper man.
From the time he began his career at the Sun Herald in 1946 at age 21, until he finally stopped all writing for the publication in 2012, he was a newspaper man.
Bell died Sunday at age 91.
Graveside services will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday at Floral Hills Memorial Gardens.
He spent 42 years with the Sun Herald before retiring from full-time reporting Jan. 1, 1988. He continued to work as a freelance writer, however, with his byline appearing as late as 2005. He also wrote the popular “Memory Bank feature for years, retiring from that duty in 2012.
Bell wrote his own sign-off when he stopped writing his popular “Memory Bank” vignettes that ran for years.
“I will sorely miss the thrill of writing for such an appreciative audience. Thanks for a grand opportunity to be a living part of the community,” Bell wrote. “I have written for The Herald since I was 21 in 1946. I can’t imagine a day in which I did no work for or with the newspaper in some capacity. My happiest days of life have been knowing my work would appear in The Herald.”
The Sun Herald was also where he met his wife, Ann. They were married 53 years before she died in 2012.
Ann Whitehead Bell began as a key punch operator at the then-Daily Herald. She later became full-time news reporter. Jimmie and Ann Bell had five children, daughter Stacey (Steve) Huffman, Anthony Bell, Jeff (Regina) Bell, Steve (Jane) Bell and William (Linda) Bell, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Roland Weeks, who served as publisher for the Sun Herald during Bell’s time there, remembers the reporter as top-notch.
“Number one, he was a wonderful man. There are few people I can say this about . . . he was a wonderful man in every respect,” Weeks said. “Number two, he was a great person to work with. And he will be missed by a lot of people.”
Sun Herald reporter Anita Lee recalled how Bell could always find a source — no matter what the hour.
“Jimmie sat across from me when I arrived at the Sun Herald. I was covering Harrison County at the time,” she said. “This was, of course, way before cellphones. If I needed to reach a county official in the late afternoon, Jimmie always knew where to find him or her.
“One afternoon, for example, I was looking for the chancery clerk. Oh, Jimmie told me, ‘He’s probably at the Best Western hotel bar for happy hour.’ With Jimmie’s help, I was always able to hunt down whomever I needed.”
Mike Tonos, a former managing and executive editor, said Bell already was on staff when he arrived in 1973.
“He was a throwback in the newsroom. Everybody had a beat, but everybody was general assignment, too. Jimmie knew everybody and he was willing to do whatever he was asked to do.
“Even as he became a senior member of the staff, he could write a lot of copy, fill his business page and his throwback column. He was one of the principles in the newsroom.”
Tonos said when The Sun and the Daily Herald were merging, there was a lot of uncertainty among the staff about how things would go.
“Jimmie took everything in stride,” Tonos said. “And he was one of the funniest people I’d ever met. He had a weird sense of humor. He laughed a lot, but he wasn’t always cracking jokes. He would just make funny comments with that dry sense of humor.”