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Walter A. Bell

The following biographical sketch was compiled at the time of induction into the Academy in 2018.


Walter A. Bell, the youngest child of David V. and Gladys L. Bell, was born in Buena Vista, Alabama. His father, a third-generation farmer, moved his family to Mobile during World War II. Bell attended public schools and graduated from Central High School.

After high school, Bell attended Foothill Community College in Los Altos Hills, California. He spent six years in the California National Guard being named “Soldier of the Cycle,” and was deployed during the Watts Riot and the People Park Riot in Berkeley. Bell also served as Executive Director of a local agency of the Office of Economic Opportunity to assist low-income clientele with emergency needs and community organization. In addition, he was a photo-journalist for the Angela Davis trial, writing for several newspapers throughout the U.S.

In 1973, Bell moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, and joined the Indianapolis Urban League as Community Relations Director. He planned, directed, and wrote weekly news articles and speeches, produced and hosted two weekly radio shows and a monthly television show. In 1976 in celebration of the U.S. Bicentennial, Bell also produced a stage play entitled The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.
When Bell returned to Mobile in 1978, he founded and became the first President of the Mobile County Urban League. This involvement led to a career over the past forty years of civic, charitable, educational, and economic endeavors locally, nationally and globally.

Bell spent four years with the First National Bank of Mobile as a retail banker before joining the Mutual Life Insurance of New York (MONY) Group where he worked from 1983 to 1996. In 1996, he relocated to New York City to serve as director of emerging markets. Two years later, he was promoted to Vice President, Diversity Marketing, where he served until his retirement in 2002.

In 2003, Bell returned to Mobile and was chosen to be the Alabama Insurance Commissioner, serving in the cabinet of Governor Bob Riley until 2008. He was the first Alabama Insurance Commissioner elected President of the National Association of Insurance Commissions and Vice Chairman of the International Association of Insurance Supervisors.

From June 2008 to 2015, Bell was Chairman of Swiss Re America Holding Corporation, a seventeen billion dollar subsidiary of the Zurich-based Swiss Reinsurance Company. As chairman during the financial crisis of 2008, he reorganized the board and its committees from majority internal management to majority external directors.

Bell currently serves as a Director for the Bermuda Monetary Authority; The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association’s Brand Enhancement and Protection Committee; the Mobile Water and Sewer Board; Foreign Policy Association; and Chairman of the Alabama School of Math & Science. He has previously served as chairman or director of trustees of numerous corporations and not-for-profit organizations both in Alabama and beyond.

Bell graduated from Spring Hill College, where he served on the Board of Trustees for thirteen years. He was married to the late Loresa Carleton for thirty-seven years. Bell has one son, W. Kamau Bell, host of the Emmy winning CNN Show, United Shades of America, one stepdaughter, Ashley, and four granddaughters.

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