Dr. Lawrence Bell, longtime Baltimore dentist recalled as mentor to others, dies

Dr. Lawrence Bell Jr., a retired dentist who practiced from a residence facing Druid Hill Park, died May 18 at the Johns Hopkins Hospital of complications from a stroke. He was 77.

“Dr. Bell’s long and esteemed life was distinguished by his care and concern for so many,” said Mayor Catherine Pugh. “He was a kind and gentle man, a devoted husband and father. He turned no one away and provided essential care to countless people unable to pay.”

Born in Baltimore and raised on Ruxton Avenue, he was the son of Lawrence Bell Sr., a Bethlehem Steel machine operator, and his wife, Roxie Shaw, a Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone worker.

He was a 1960 graduate of Frederick Douglass High School and obtained a bachelor’s degree in biology from Morgan State University. He was a member of Alpha Phi Omega Fraternity and had remained active in that group.

While a student at Morgan he met his future wife, Elinor Willis, while attending a Reserve Officers Training Corps dance. They married in 1961.

Dr. Bell initially worked as a chemist at W.R. Grace. As the University of Maryland Dental School desegregated, he followed his aspiration to become a medical professional.

“He went ahead and applied,” said his son, Lawrence Bell III, a former Baltimore City Council president who represented West Baltimore. “He was one of the first blacks to come out of the school.”

He received his diploma in 1974 and briefly practiced at the Provident Druid Health Clinic on West North Avenue. He later worked alongside a friend, Dr. Willie Richardson, at a Duvall Avenue office.

In 1979 Dr. Bell opened his own practice at the corner of Auchentoroly Terrace and Gwynns Falls Parkway, across from Druid Hill Park.

“Before long it seemed that everybody knew Dr. Bell,” said his son. “He could talk at length, and that had a calming influence when he got people in his chair.”

“He treated people from all walks of life. And he treated generations of his patients,” he added. “I don’t think he ever realized how popular he was with people on the street.”

Maryland State Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, who attended Morgan State University with Dr. Bell, said: “He was from West Baltimore and he went right back into the Mondawmin community and did great work. He had a wonderful practice. He was my dentist — and he was my friend.”

Former Congressman Kweisi Mfume called Dr. Bell “a good man with a good heart. He really represented a true community dental practice. He didn’t turn away anyone. He was generous to the poor and others who needed care but had trouble paying. He’d give free treatment or extend credit. He was also a humble man and had the kind of humility you don’t often see today.”

His son said his father was a mentor to the next generation of African-American dental students.

“He had an affinity for the University of Maryland graduates, but he helped those from Howard University as well,” said Mr. Bell.

Dr. Bell was semi-retired and worked alongside other dentists who joined his practice. A member of the Auchentoroly Terrace Association, he was active in the business and residential circles of the neighborhood.

He liked to dress well and enjoyed good times with family and friends. Family members said he spent free time at the Sphinx Club on Pennsylvania Avenue.

“He shared his life lessons with his friends and showed how to avoid pitfalls,” said his son. “He also offered motivation and encouragement.”

Dr. Bell was a member of the Maryland Chapter of the National Dental Society, the Frederick Douglass High School Alumni Organization and the Baltimore Chapter of the NAACP.

In 1986, he was honored by the Mondawmin community as “A Positive Role Model in Shaping Black Youth & Families.” In 2004, he received a Community Service Award from former State Sen. Ralph Hughes; and in 2012 he was awarded the Thurgood Marshall Award by the NAACP, Baltimore City Chapter.

A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the United House of Prayer for All People, 3401 Edgewood Road.

“I look forward to joining with many admirers in his home-going celebration as we honor his long life and lasting impact,” said Mayor Pugh.

In addition to his wife of 57 years, a retired Baltimore City schools teacher who worked with Dr. Bell in his dental practice, and his son, survivors include two other sons, Zane Bell and Marshall Bell; a brother, Kermit Bell; three sisters, Minnie Saunders, Carrie Johnson and Lucinda “Sarah” Horsey, all of Baltimore; and three grandchildren, all of Baltimore. A daughter, Wanda Bell died last year.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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