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Letter from Nancy Bell

Dear Roland,

How often does one have the opportunity to say to another, “You have made a difference in my life” or “I am a better person for having known you?” But to you, my dear friend, I can honestly and whole-heartedly say both.

I know that I’m a better wife because of your example. For seventeen years, I’ve watched you be a loving and devoted husband to your best friend. I’ve watched you many times as you’ve answered your phone, heard Arlene’s voice, leaned back in your chair with your hands behind your head with a special smile created only for her and simply said “Hi, Ar.” I find myself striving to be the kind of wife that creates in Bill a lasting love like the one that you feel for Arlene.

I know that I’m a better mother because of your example. Remember when we held clinic in the Webb Building every Thursday? All the staff knew that you needed us to be present and at our best on Thursdays for you to have a most successful clinic. Se we worked through our flu symptoms, our headaches, or our stomach viruses because you needed us at work. Unless of course, one of our kids had a ballgame, cheerleading tryouts or a field trip that day. Well, that was different. We knew that you would excuse us from clinic then. How did we know? Because of your example. Many times, you asked us to reschedule your patient load because David, Steven or Nancy had a ballgame, or diving competition, or some other event. We knew that it was important for you to be there, as much for yourself as for them. Despite your uncompromising dedication to your patients, your students and your research, we all know and understand that everything at UAB, everything, takes a backseat to your children. Oh, you try so hard not to boast, but in your own humble way, we occasionally are privileged to hear some great accomplishment from one of your three. We are always touched by your love for them. And then came Lauren. The circle now seems complete.

I know that I’m a better employee because of your leadership. While other supervisors use their employees’ job descriptions as a guide to daily task assignments you instead look at yesterday’s achievements, bring those into today and say “OK. Let’s go just a step further.” Do you realize just how much confidence and motivation this produces in your employees? Do you know how puzzled I am every time you call me into your office and say “Tell me your thoughts about this idea” or “Tell me if I’m wrong but…?” After seventeen years, I’m still baffled. I look into your face, then look up at that Harvard degree hanging just above your head, look back at that sincere question and think “Why?” Why do you ever ask me or anyone our opinion about anything? You’re the one who seems to know all the right answers. The rest of us are just simply trying to keep up as best we can.

I know I’m a better person in general because of your example. You’ve heard me say many times that God has blessed my life but are you even aware that you are one of those blessings? For reasons I may never understand, He gave me a front row seat to your life. I have watched your character, your highest of standards and uncompromising honesty and integrity. I have watched you treat people with such patience, such compassion, such attentiveness and such, in my opinion, sometimes, perhaps, undeserved dignity and respect. But, Roland, that’s who you are. That’s the great man that you are. Rather than treat someone the way we deserve to be treated, you instead threat us the way we need to be treated. You have an uncanny gift of knowing what a person needs on any given day and the caring compassion to be able to fulfill that need in such a perfect way that only you seem to be able to do.

Even though I may be a better wife, a better mother, a better employee, a better person in general for knowing you, I will never be able to master these roles the way you have. If I can just come close . . . well, that would be great.

So, let me close by saying that you, my dear friend, second only to my family, are the love, joy and happiness of my life. I thank God for knowing you and will forever and always remember your warmth, your kindness, your wisdom, your integrity, your sweetness and most of all, your friendship.

Your friend forever,

Love, Nancy