From The Martha's Vineyard Times on June 1, 2021:
Harold Bell, 94, died peacefully at home, surrounded by his children, on May 26, 2021. Harold, or Hank, as his friends called him, was the husband for over 68 years of his beloved wife and partner Bobby Bell, who died in 2017. Hank and Bobby did just about everything together, and they were the love of each other’s lives.
Hank was the oldest child of Leonard Bell and Rose Yaeger Bell, and the loving brother of Elizabeth (known as Betty). His father owned and operated a flower shop, and his mother was a homemaker, raising Hank and Betty, and also a sculptor and metalsmith in her later years. Hank often related lessons he had learned from his parents to his and Bobby’s children — particularly how his father had to put up with a young Hank. Hank also was very close with Bobby’s much larger Brazel/Okrent/Otis family.
A proud graduate of Stuyvesant High School and City College of New York, Hank continued his strong connection to his alma mater and his fraternity brothers. After graduating college, Hank held several jobs as an accountant, including for a builder in Long Island. Hank decided that he could build homes himself, and after putting an advertisement in the newspaper in the early 1950s for a financial benefactor, he started his construction career, successfully building single-family homes on Long Island. Bobby and Hank then moved with their son Lawrence and daughter Robin from Brooklyn to Ardsley, N.Y., where their third child, Leonard, was born. Hank teamed up with two partners who provided initial financial backing, and started an investment building career, building apartment houses primarily in Yonkers, N.Y.
In the late 1960s, after great success in real estate development, Hank was looking for a significant change in his life. After considering enrolling in medical school and following a serendipitous discussion on a beach on Martha’s Vineyard, Hank was instead drawn to the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture and Planning, where he started teaching what he knew — real estate development and entrepreneurship. Hank started the real estate development program, and he taught thousands of students who came from around the world to learn from Hank’s experience, wisdom, and criticism, continuously from 1968 through the fall semester of 2020. At age 94, as an emeritus professor, Hank taught by Zoom during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Each year for the past decade or so, his legions of former students would return to Columbia to honor Hank by bestowing an entrepreneurship award in his name.
Hank also founded and led Modular Communities, Inc., in the late 1960s, which imported and improved modular housing technology, trained previously unemployed staff to produce prefabricated apartment sections in a factory, and successfully competed as an awardee of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Operation Breakthrough program.
Hank’s teaching at Columbia launched a new career where he focused on improving urban environments in the U.S. and globally. Hank was twice selected by the National Academy of Sciences research advisory board to be the chairman of the American delegation for the exchange of housing technology between the U.S. and the USSR, including twice leading a delegation to the USSR and hosting the Soviet delegation in the U.S. Also, with the approval of the U.S. government, he befriended the Russian undersecretary of the United Nations, and participated in certain U.S. government-supported activities. Separately, he represented the American Institute of Architecture to initially establish a relationship with the Chinese Society of Architecture. These international activities provided Hank with endless stories about his adventures, with which he would regale his increasingly large family and students over the years. Hank also served as an economist for the American Institute of Architecture in projects in over 25 American cities facing a diverse set of challenges, including earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, and internal competition between population segments.
Hank was a fierce competitive sailor on Menemsha Pond in Chilmark in the 1960s and 1970s, and then again with one of his granddaughters in the 1990s. He also loved fishing and lobstering around the Vineyard from a succession of center-console powerboats. He and Bobby traveled extensively to visit with family in Israel, Colombia, and Argentina, and also to the Balkans and elsewhere in Europe, and China. He skied with Bobby and their children in Vermont, Colorado, and Switzerland. His greatest lifelong friendships were largely formed on Squibnocket, Stonewall, and Lucy Vincent beaches in Chilmark, where for six decades they would sit together and discuss the greatest events of the day.
Hank’s love for his wife Bobby was undying to his last days, and an example for all who met him. Hank frequently dropped everything he was doing to drive in the middle of the night to help any of his children when he felt they needed assistance. Hank was blunt all of his life, never leaving anyone unsure of his thoughts or priorities — for example, when he wanted people to leave his home in the evening, he would re-enter the living room wearing his pajamas.
Hank is survived by his and Bobby’s children Lawrence Bell (Janet), Robin Bell (Thomas Kalb), and Leonard Bell (Linda); their grandchildren Sarah Bell Wechsler (Jay), Jennifer Bell Levine (Joseph), Bess Kalb (Charles), Will Kalb, Jessica Bell (David Greisen), Jonathan Bell (Jackie), and Alexander Bell (Yui Kitayama); and their great-grandchildren Eliza Wechsler, Zachary Wechsler, Joshua Levine, Julia Levine, Hannah Greisen, and Lia Greisen; and by Hank’s sister, Elizabeth Gochman.