Richmond Randolph Bell, beloved Wellfleet patriarch, died in his sleep at his second home in Norwich, Vt., on June 14, 2020, of lymphoma. He was 95.
Rich was born on March 22, 1925, in the birthing room in his family home in Wellfleet and where he lived until his death. He was delivered by his father, Dr. Clarence John Bell, the town doctor. Like his father, Rich was considered the heart and soul of Wellfleet. His character, calm demeanor, and fairness to all were his hallmarks. He will be fondly remembered for his good-natured jokes and puns and for vivid stories, often featuring youthful adventures and Wellfleet history.
His love for and encyclopedic knowledge of antique Ford automobiles was as much a defining feature as his twinkling blue eyes. It was a treasured tradition for Rich to drive his antique cars in Wellfleet Independence Day parades, loaded with his children, then his grandchildren.
Rich was three when his father bought a new Model A Ford, the first in town, delivered at 3 p.m. on Sept. 7, 1928. He would stand on the seat and hold on to the dashboard to look out the window while bouncing down dirt roads. His father made him wait until he was 12 to get his own. Then, with $10 saved from delivering newspapers, he bought his first Model A in Chatham, paying 50 cents for delivery. For his 16th birthday, his father gave him a 1930 coupe with a rumble seat. He owned that car until a few days before his death.
At age 19, not long after his father died, Rich was drafted into the Army. He served in the 29th Infantry Division, landing on Omaha Beach, Normandy, in Operation Overlord on D-Day. After 19 months he was discharged as a corporal and awarded the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious achievement in the Normandy campaign and three Purple Hearts for wounds received in combat at St. Lo, the Vire area of France, and Baesweiler, Germany. In 2019, the consulate general of France presented Rich with the Legion of Honor, the highest decoration awarded by that nation.
After the war, Rich earned a bachelor’s degree from Boston University, married, and had a family. He was a Lower Cape Ambulance Association driver, and later joined the volunteer Wellfleet Fire Dept., where he served for nearly 40 years, over 20 as deputy chief. Once, while driving a patient to the hospital, he came upon seven deer in the middle of Route 6. With lights flashing and siren blaring, he drove through the herd and missed them all.
After years as an insurance investigator for the Retail Credit Company, in the early 1970s Rich turned his antique car hobby into a mail order business called Vintage Ford Center, which he operated out of his father’s old office on Main Street. He was a born merchant, and playing “store” was a favorite childhood game.
Customers would call and describe a funny sound their car was making, Rich would diagnose the ailment from the wheeze, clunk, or hiss, and mail out the parts the same day. Customers often explained that they planned their summer vacations around a pilgrimage to Rich’s car parts store.
Rich was past commander of the American Legion Post in Wellfleet. He was a member of the Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank Board of Trustees for 40 years, and a member of the bank’s Board of Corporators for 20 years, retiring in the past few weeks. He was also a member of the Nauset school committee, finance committee, and Republican town committee, and was the town election warden for years.
Rich was also a member of the Wellfleet Historical Society, a founding member of the Cape Cod Antique Car Club, and a member of two Model A restorer’s clubs (in Norwich and Cape Cod) and the Automobile License Plate Collector’s Association.
Rich was predeceased by first wife and mother of his five children, Jeanne (Richardson), by his second wife, Patricia (Hillman Jones), and by his daughter Kristina Staneika. He is survived by his wife of 12 years, Gail (Bourgeois), whose devotion and care enabled him to stay at home throughout his illness; as well as by his children, Andrea Slade of Wellfleet, Richmond “Randy” Bell of Westbrook, Conn., John Bell of Jupiter, Fla., and Faith Lee of Wareham; and by 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. From Gail’s family, Rich is survived by four stepchildren, Michelle Edmunds of Austin, Texas, Leslie Gannon of Norwich, Vt., who lovingly stayed by Rich’s bedside at night providing nursing care, “Trey” Gannon of Bala Cynwyd, Pa., and Lindsey Carmichael of Portsmouth, N.H., and their spouses, 10 step-grandchildren, and one step-great-grandchild.
A public celebration of his life will be held at the Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum at a date to be determined.
Memorial donations in Rich’s name may be made to the Wellfleet Firefighter’s Relief Association, P. O Box 602, Wellfleet 02667, the Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum at wellfleethistoricalsociety.org, or Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center at D-H/Giesel Office of Development, 1 Medical Center Drive HB 7070, Lebanon, NH 03756.