‘A Dynamo with
Grace and Style’
Evelyn Bell: 1927-1999
Fortunately for many a harried steward or local officer in
western Pennsylvania or western New York, calling the UE District Six office
looking for help often meant speaking to Evelyn Bell. Her keep grasp of
workplace problems and calm manner would see the local leader through the
emergency until a field organizer or district officer could offer assistance.
Evelyn Bell, regarded fondly by local officers and staff as a
"dynamo with grace and style," died July 25. For nearly four decades
on the staff of District Six as office manager and much more, Bell devoted her
considerable intelligence, skills and energy to the union. "She was an
example to everyone," commented Pat McCaughtry, who succeeded Bell
Born in 1927, Mary Evelyn Lester Bell attended schools in the
Pittsburgh area and continued her education at Hampton Institute (now Hampton
University). After some time spent in Chicago she returned to western
Pennsylvania in the early 1950s and took a temporary job as a typist with UE
District Six. Local 610 leader Ted Wright, later a field organizer, and
other African-American union members recommended Bell for the job of office
Bell joined the union’s staff at a time when the union faced
ferocious attack by major corporations, the government and others. Interviewed
for the BBC The Un-Americans, documentary on the 1950s anti-communist
inquisition, Bell expressed her outrage and bewilderment at the hateful
attacks on decent union members. "Forty years later, it still doesn’t
make sense to me," she said, telling of the "terrible human
cost" she witnessed.
INSISTED THAT 'ALL VOICES BE HEARD'
As office manager Bell helped transform the District Six
office into a learning and resource center for locals. She developed a
financial practices seminar for financial secretaries; her instructions on
maintaining local books became the basic for a manual published by the
National union. She assisted new locals in developing the correct UE local
constitutions, grievances and financial practices. "She kept a motherly
eye on the locals," McCaughtry commented.
Bell was a force for democracy within District Six by
insisting that all voices — including those of women and African-Americans
— be heard.
In remarks at the District Six Council meeting in February
1990, which honored Bell on her retirement, then-Dir. of Org. Ed Bruno
hailed Evelyn Bell as "a fighter for social justice," who happened
to make her contribution with the title "office manager."
For her part, as Bell told a June 1988 council meeting marking
District Six’s 50th
anniversary, the work had been "diverse but never dull." Over the
years, she said, she had been impressed by the union’s dedication to
"dignity for working people."
Outside of the union, her diverse interests included
traveling, sewing and jazz. Her travels took to nearly every continent, from
Australia to Africa and beyond.
She is survived by a daughter, Diane Banks;
granddaughter, Rachael Banks; a sister and three brothers.
UE News - 10/99