updated March 7, 2017, 11:45 am
Barbara Bell, 90, died peacefully at home in Palm Beach, Fla, on March 3, 2017. Barbara, or Bobby, as her friends called her, was the wife for over 68 years of her devoted husband and partner Hank Bell. Bobby and Hank did just about everything together, and they were the love of each other’s lives.
Bobby was born the fifth child in a family of four boys and herself. Her mother, Rose (Brazel/Okrent), came to America from Russia by herself as a 13-year-old at the turn of the previous century, and her father, Sam Otis (Otezky), also arrived from Russia near the turn of the previous century as a teenager. Bobby always considered herself as part of an enduring family over generations. Younger by 14 years than any of her brothers, much of Bobby’s young childhood oriented around “the boys,” their care for her, and her care for her mother. She loved her brothers unconditionally. Throughout her life, Bobby carried with her the challenges that her mother faced, and she emulated her mother’s determination, strength, and willingness to fight for what she believed.
A graduate of Hunter College, Bobby continued her strong connection to her alma mater and her sorority sisters. For Bobby, this was an anchor of continuity throughout her life. Bobby was a voracious reader, though she would often start books from the end, then if merited read the beginning, and finish with the middle. Bobby was a good athlete, an active tennis player and avid skier. When one of her children needed a crew in sailboat racing on Martha’s Vineyard, Bobby was always the first to jump in. Bobby’s energy was endless, and she filled her life with her vitality, adventure, and passion. Bobby was very active in Jewish and political affairs, and participated in the 1963 March on Washington for civil rights.
Bobby decided that she wanted to develop and renovate buildings, which she did successfully on the East Side of Manhattan. Most of all, she was devoted to her large and extended family, and for decades she cherished hosting and organizing family gatherings around the Jewish holidays and other events. Bobby was a remarkable mother who devoted herself to, and lived for, her three children, seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. From her own life and through direct exhortation, Bobby persistently inspired each to reach for their potential and to never settle in any aspect of their lives. She extended herself to her many cousins and their children with love and mentorship.
Bobby is survived by her husband Hank; children Lawrence Bell (Janet), Robin Bell (Thomas), and Leonard Bell (Linda); her grandchildren Sarah Wechsler (Jay), Jennifer Levine (Joseph), Bess Kalb (Charles), Will Kalb, Jessica Bell (David), Jonathan Bell (Jackie), and Alexander Bell; and her great-grandchildren Eliza Wechsler, Zachary Wechsler, and Joshua Levine.
Funeral and burial will be at 1 pm at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center in Vineyard Haven on March 6, and a memorial service will be held at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, N.Y., at 1 pm on March 7.
Donations in Barbara’s memory may be sent to the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center, P.O. Box 692, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.