Remembering Betty Bell


March 18, 1941 – February 20, 2022

Ms. Betty Jo Bell, Founding Director of The Bell Center for Early Intervention Programs, died peacefully on Sunday, February 20, 2022, at the age of 80.

   Funeral and burial services are scheduled on Saturday, February 26, at 3 p.m., at Oakwood Cemetery in her hometown of Corsicana, TX.  A Celebration of Life service will be held Friday, March 18, at 12:30 p.m. at Trinity United Methodist in Birmingham, AL, where she was a long-time member. The Celebration of Life service will be available via live stream.

              Betty lived her life in service to young children with special needs and their families, and thousands of lives were changed because of her.  Betty always saw the child first – not the disability, not the challenges, not the family’s road ahead – but simply the child.  She loved them all, and was often heard to say, “these children are my children.” She made so many families feel hope where there had only been despair, and the families and children she loved are forever indebted to her.

              Born in Corsicana, Texas, Betty was a proud graduate of the University of Texas School of Nursing and received her master’s degree in developmental nursing from the University of Florida.  Following her graduation from Florida, she served as acting director of the nursing division of The Mailman Center for Child Development at the University of Miami.  She also completed post-graduate fellowship studies in the care of children with special needs at the University of Washington.

              Betty was a pioneer in the newly recognized field of early intervention at that time.  Following a nationwide search in 1970, she was hired by the University of Alabama at Birmingham to be the Coordinator of the Developmental Program for Infants and Toddlers at the Center for Developmental and Learning Disorders (CDLD), a program that she ran for 13 years until the program was closed.  This program represented the first time that early intervention was available in Birmingham.

              In April 1984, Betty received a phone call from The Service Guild of Birmingham, a local women’s volunteer organization.  The Service Guild was interested in starting an early intervention program, and Betty immediately joined with The Service Guild to start a program known as EIP (Early Intervention Program).  EIP began in a Sunday School classroom at Trinity United Methodist Church in Homewood, and stayed for 10 years until the program outgrew the space provided by the church.

              In September 1994, The Service Guild bought a building in Homewood to house EIP. After the program moved there, it began to grow rapidly in its new space.  In 2002, the program was renamed The Bell Center for Early Intervention Programs to honor its long-time program director.

              Betty received multiple honors and awards for her work.  She was honored among Women Who Shape the State in 2018, received the University of Texas 2017 School of Nursing Hall of Fame Award, named to the Alabama Healthcare Hall of Fame in 2008, named Early Interventionist of the Year at the Alabama Early Intervention Pre-School Conference in 1991, and received the Lotus Award in 1987, among numerous other awards throughout her career. She was a member of the Alabama State Nurses Association, American Nurses Association, National Down Syndrome Congress, National Organization for Rare Disorders, member and president of the Spina Bifida Association of Alabama, member of the Spina Bifida Association of America, and board member of Down Syndrome Alabama.

              She is survived by her cousins, Linda Jump Lammersen, (Barry) of Scottsdale, AZ and Linda Lee Sims Frediani, (Larry) of Goodyear, AZ and her nephews, Jeff Poarch of Corinth, TX and Brian Poarch of Frisco, TX.  She is also survived by many dear friends including Kathy Olive, Dr. Jeanne Hutchison, Sandra and Marvin Crocker, Nancy Norton, Margaret Rogers, Joyce Dixon, Jerre and Ron Williams, Cinna Sotherland, Drs. John and Laura Fiveash, as well as her godson Nick Fiveash and goddaughter Katie Sotherland Johnson, extended family, and current and past members of The Bell Center staff. 

She was preceded in death by her parents, Joe and Ella Ruth Bell; her sister and brother-in-law, Ruth Ann and David Poarch; and cousin, William Sims Jump.   

              Betty’s friends and family would like to acknowledge caregivers from Home Instead whose extraordinary care made it possible for Betty to remain independent, comfortable and cared for in her later years: Susie McClanahan, Janet Wallace, Shelia Ward, Bessie Simon, Daisy Perry and Sheila Morgan.

To further the incredible work of The Bell Center and honor the staff of The Bell Center and the membership of The Service Guild of Birmingham, family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in Betty’s memory to The Bell Center, 1700 29th Court South, Birmingham, AL 35209 or Betty treasured those with whom she worked.