Elinor P. Bell, a longtime city public schools educator who was active in politics and earned a law degree, dies

Elinor P. Bell, a longtime Baltimore City Public Schools educator who specialized in teaching special education students and earned a law degree, died of heart failure March 22 at Union Memorial Hospital. The Northwest Baltimore resident was 79.

“Elinor was kind, gracious and committed to her work and devoted to her family,” said her first cousin, Rep. Kweisi Mfume. “She was built for motherhood and had honed her matriarchal spirit a longtime as a girl who wanted to have a family and see them succeed her. She earned the right to be the matriarch of our family.


“She was brilliant in her own right, was very studious, and had a sharp mind. She clearly was a lot smarter than me. Stuff came to her easy whereas I had to work at it.”

“She was a trailblazer and matriarch of our family,” said a son, Lawrence A. Bell III, former City Council president and councilman, who lives in Northwest Baltimore. “She was active in politics and impacted a lot of lives. She was well liked and had a certain quiet spirit about her.”


Marshall C. Bell, who is her younger son and lives in West Baltimore, said his mother always carried herself with a “certain dignity and respect.”

“She had respect for herself and respect and dignity for others,” said Mr. Bell, a Baltimore businessman, political consultant and author. “She had a queenly demeanor, and was certainly a woman of class and dignity.”

Former City Council President and Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke was a friend of Mrs. Bell’s.

“She was a wonderful combination of mother and family, and was the boss of it, too,” Ms. Clarke said. “Whether it was politics or business, she steered the way and everyone loved her for it. She was very friendly, down-to-earth, and very smart. Everything she did, was to make a better world.

“Every group she found herself a part of — she didn’t want to run it — but she wanted to help steer it.”

The former Elinor Pecora Willis, daughter of Randolph W. Willis, a Calvert Distillery worker, and his wife, Corinna S. Willis, an associate pastor at New Creative Christian Church, and a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in West Baltimore on Madison Avenue and later Appleton Street.

Mrs. Bell attended city public schools, and after skipping a grade in grade school where she was a straight-A student, family members said, she enrolled at Booker T. Washington Junior High School.

“She was a member of the very first class of Black young women to matriculate at Western High School, from which she graduated in 1959,” said Mr. Bell, who was City Council president from 1995 to 1999.


During her teenage years, Mrs. Bell started her first job working as a salesclerk at Tommy Tucker’s Five and Dime Store on Pennsylvania Avenue, family members said.

She began her college studies at what was then Morgan State College and met and fell in love with a fellow student, Lawrence A. Bell Jr., whom she met while attending an ROTC dance. The couple married in 1961.

After the birth of her first son, Lawrence, she returned to Morgan, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in 1964 in home economics. While a new mother and student, Mrs. Bell worked nights at the Federal Reserve Bank on North Calvert Street.

“She was one of the first African American clerks at the bank,” Lawrence A. Bell III said.

“She loved her family and husband and had the ability to go from being a teenager to a woman who contributed so much to our community,” Mr. Mfume said.

Mrs. Bell began her city public schools career in 1964 teaching home economics at Calverton Junior High School, and later at Gwynns Falls Junior High School, where she was a senior teacher. Because she found teaching special education students rewarding, she later joined the faculty of Claremont School, which is the city public school for special needs students.


Mrs. Bell retired in 2000 from Claremont, where she had spent the majority of her career.

As a person who respected and understood the power of education, she earned a master’s degree in the early 1970s from what is now Coppin State University, and her law degree in 1986 from the University of Maryland School of Law.

When her husband attended dental school at the University of Maryland in the early 1970s, she became the family breadwinner. After her husband graduated from dental school in 1974, she assisted him when he established his first practice on Duvall Avenue, and later when he moved to an office in 1979 at Auchentoroly Terrace and Gwynns Falls Parkway, across from Druid Hill Park.

Politics was a family affair for Mrs. Bell.

“Mom was a very, very smart woman, and when it came to politics when we were growing up, we’d have discussions around the table and she had her opinions and wasn’t afraid to express them,” Marshall C. Bell said. “She was both a compassionate and passionate person who cared for people, and we had the ability to give back and give people an arm up. And she felt it was important to give back to the community.”

When her son Lawrence ran for City Council in 1987, Mrs. Bell served as his campaign treasurer, while his brother, who was an 18-year-old Howard University freshman, managed his campaign.


“Campaigning was brand new to us, but we made a great team,” Marshall C. Bell recalled. “We leaned on her for guidance and keeping the books straight.”

When Mr. Mfume, former City Council member from 1978 to 1986, ran in 1987 for the House seat representing Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, he turned to the Bell family.

“Kweisi used one of our properties on Auchentoroly Terrace as his campaign headquarters,” Marshall C. Bell said.

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If Mrs. Bell was fascinated with politics, she was equally fascinated in editing — she served as editor when her son Marshall wrote two novels, “The Darkest Secret” and “Baltimore Blues: Harm City.”

Mrs. Bell had been an active and proud member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. She enjoyed watching “It’s Academic” with her husband, and “Jeopardy!” with her son Marshall, and shopping at the Druid Hill Park Farmer’s Market. A world traveler, she visited Europe, South America, Africa and the Holy Land, and took many cruises with her husband.

“When her husband died in 2018, it took something out of her,” Mr. Mfume said.


“She provided selfless love, support and encouragement to both her children and her three grandchildren in the pursuit of their dreams, and would do anything to see them happy, healthy and successful,” Marshall C. Bell wrote in a biographical profile of his mother.

“She was a quiet woman full of love, strength, warmth, character, and dignity. She was the quiet strength and foundation behind the success of her family,” he wrote. “Elinor lifted up her husband and children. She was the bright shining light to all who met and knew her.”

Funeral services for Mrs. Bell will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the United House of Prayer for All People at 3401 Edgewood Road in Baltimore.

In addition to her two sons, Mrs. Bell is survived by her mother, Corinna S. Willis of Woodberry; three grandchildren; a niece; a nephew; and many cousins.