We’ve lost another lion in FL: Sam Bell

We’ve lost another lion.

Former State Rep. Sam Bell, a ferocious leader who fought for funds to help Florida’s children, died Tuesday in Tampa.

Bell’s wife, former Education Commissioner Betty Castor, said Bell’s death was caused by kidney stones but was quite unexpected.  Bell was 83 and served in the Florida House from 1974 to 1988.

“He was so proud of what he did for children’s services,” Castor said Wednesday.

Funeral services will be scheduled later at Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church in Tampa.

“He loved making comparisons about what the legislature did before and what they are doing currently,’’ Castor added. He was so proud of that group of legislators.

Castor and Bell have been living in Tampa in recent years but maintained contacts with many of the state’s educational institutions.

Bell, as appropriations chairman of the state House of Representatives, was part of a progressive group that pushed for improved help for children and educational institutions.

I was a reporter at the Capitol during those days and well recall the outspoken, highly motivated leaders of the day.

Most of all I remember a night in the state House when, late at night, Bell came dashing out of a room where the Appropriations Committee was making final state budget decisions.

Sometime after midnight, as I recall, Bell dashed into a nearby men’s room. Castor (then Florida’s Education Commissioner and not yet married to Bell), and I were in the hall trying to get answers from him and both of us followed him into the men’s room seeking his response. He was not unnerved by the sudden presence of two women, but then-House Speaker T.K. Wetherell wandered in and was stunned to find us there.

The night ended peacefully, and we finally had an agreement on a state budget.

Here’s a statement from U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor:

With heavy hearts, we are deeply saddened to announce the passing of Sam Bell, husband of Betty Castor and stepfather of Congresswoman Kathy Castor, last night after an unexpected health complication. Samuel P. Bell III founded the University of South Florida College of Public Health and was considered the “father” of the institution. He served in the Florida Legislature for fourteen years and made selfless contributions to improving children’s health policy in Florida through his work at the College of Public Health among so many other accomplishments. Sam and Betty were married for 34 years and have six children and ten grandchildren. A celebration of life will be announced at a later date.

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