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Humble, Kind, Extraordinary: David Bell Retires After 27 Years of Service

By Dan Walker P '19, '23

“I was going to tell a joke about retired people, but none of them work.” I felt like I couldn’t write a story about David Bell without starting with a pun. Since I began my tenure in 2003, David has told hundreds, maybe thousands of them in department meetings and in the classrooms. In today’s culture, the word “GOAT” (Greatest of All Time) gets thrown around rather generously, but as his students agreed, I believe it entirely appropriate to describe David Bell as a GOAT. I’ve been given the impossible task to try and summarize what David has meant to the Mercersburg community over the last 27 years, and I know that these words will only scratch the surface. 

David’s time at Mercersburg has been nothing short of remarkable. He began at  Mercersburg as the school librarian in 1997, and became a history teacher, community service director, coach of basketball, softball, and baseball, duty dean, sports information director, and announcer for varsity football games. David sang in the Factet, Mercersburg’s faculty and staff a capella group, drove teams to sporting events, maintained order on the senior trip, and took students to receive care when needed. David is truly a “jack of all trades” and a “master” of all of them. His only flaw is continuing to be a lifelong Boston fan (Go Bills!), spoiled by the successes of the last two decades and spewing his propaganda to the rest of us with his Boston sports teams neckties and pennants in his office. 

As a teacher, I’ve never heard of anyone coming out of his class who has had negative things to say about it. Almost always, the reply revolves around “I love Mr. Bell’s class–it’s challenging, but he makes it fun.” The gratitude of his students comes through on a regular basis, and thankfully the school has recognized him several times, including in the 2017-2018 school year when he won the Zern Excellence in Teaching Award and when given the Ammerman Distinguished Teaching Award for Religious and Interdisciplinary Studies in 2007-2008. He was appointed the Archibald Rutledge Chair in 2019. His guidance through Advanced Studies World History and the MAPS program (Mercersburg’s Advanced Program for Global Studies) has influenced students far beyond the Mercersburg classrooms, evident by the words of returning students on Reunion Weekend and throughout the school year.  

Outside of the classroom is where David may have had an even bigger influence on students and adults alike. His calm, logical demeanor at sporting events kept players and coaches level-headed in times of crisis. How many coaches do you know who can step in and sing a pitch-perfect National Anthem when the sound system goes down? I know of one, David Bell. As the football coach, during games, I would almost always have my headphones on, but when I didn’t, I was sure to hear that consistent voice giving objective–sometimes in favor of the home team–information to the families and fans describing a play or even a potential penalty that might have occurred. I remember laughing to myself when I heard “first and 20 after a questionable holding call” when playing Lawrenceville in 2016–I don’t ever think I told him that I agreed with his call! 

More than anything, David has a love of family which transcends to the greater school community. For over 25 years at Mercersburg, David and his wife, Julie, have truly been a team that serves as a model to the rest of us. The respect and love shown for each other and their daughters, Jenny ’17 and Emily ’18, serve as truly admirable examples.  Though willing to step up for almost any task asked of him (and I can’t begin to list the amount of times David Bell “stepped up”), his family was always his first priority.  

In my 21 years beside David, I never heard him speak a malicious word toward someone else. Frustration, yes. Venting, sure. He always carried context and looked for the very best in people. We can’t thank him enough for his leadership by example.  David summed up his greatest gift in his Baccalaureate speech when he sang Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind,” and we would all agree that David Bell lived up to those words on a daily basis. We love you, you are irreplaceable, and we will see you soon, David.

Dan Walker teaches history and spent 16 years as Mercersburg’s head football coach.

Pictured above: David Bell leads students in a discussion around the Harkness table.