Mary Louise Bell; known for devotion to students

By Jenna Duncan
Globe Correspondent / August 8, 2011

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Mary Louise Bell liked to instill confidence in students in her composition class at North Shore Community College in Danvers. She would begin the semester by assuring them they could succeed.

She rarely gave out A’s, but students rose to her high standards. In her nearly 20 years of teaching at the school, not a single pupil complained about her teaching techniques, said Maureen O’Neill, dean of liberal studies at the college.

Even after Mrs. Bell was diagnosed with cancer in the spring, she continued teaching. She had her brother pick up the final papers for her to grade so she could finish the semester.

“She was a person who cared very, very deeply for our students,’’ said O’Neill. “I think what she liked most about her work was she had the chance to help students think critically and see the world in a new way, and she could help them appreciate the value of the written word.’’

Mrs. Bell, a devoted advocate of education, died July 21 from complications of lung cancer at the Kaplan Family Hospice House in Danvers. She was 80.

Born in Boston, Mary Louise Shaw grew up in Everett; her parents were immigrants from Newfoundland. She was 12 when her mother died, leaving her to care for her four younger siblings alone during her father’s frequent absences while he was working.

Though relatives in Newfoundland urged the family to move back, they stayed in Massachusetts.

“It was five of us all together, and she kind of took over for us - she became like the mother,’’ said her younger brother Fred Shaw of North Reading. “She kind of guided us through life.’’

While helping raise her siblings, she graduated from St. Clement High School in Somerville. She worked for a few years to collect money for college and went to Salem State College, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in education. She earned a master’s degree in history from Boston University.

In the late 1950s, while working at the coat check room at the Wonderland Ballroom in Revere, she met Thomas Bell, then a police officer with the Revere Police Department, and they soon married. Shortly thereafter, she took a job teaching in the North Reading school district.

“She was a strong person and independent at a time, in the ’50s and ’60s, when women weren’t,’’ said her son Tom Bell of Yarmouth, Maine.

The Bells began traveling, taking a month to visit places in Europe, where Thomas had served during World War II. The couple bought a Volkswagen Beetle to make the drive, and sold it at the end of their trip.

She had a deep appreciation for her husband’s being a veteran and for European history. She traveled throughout Europe.

In the late 1960s, the couple opened Chapman Nursery School in Everett. Later, they bought a Baskin Robbins store in Lynn, allowing her to pursue business and raise a family.

She would take the children to Plum Island every summer and on weekend ski trips.

“She was like a cheerleader for me - very, very positive and very pleased with any success I had,’’ Tom Bell said. “I was always trying to make her proud of me.’’

Mrs. Bell also served as a director at the Lare Training Center in Chelsea. There, she coached women who were beginning their careers, teaching them such skills as what to wear to an interview and how to craft a resume.

“She liked the fact that she was trying to help these people get off welfare and helped get them into the working world,’’ said her daughter Barbara Richard of Newburyport.

She resumed her teaching career at North Shore Community College, where she saw the difficulty many of her students faced and wanted to help them grow.

“She was just a very gentle person with them, and she was just as determined as they were to be successful,’’ O’Neill said.

After her husband died in 1999, Mrs. Bell continued teaching - and laughing, something her granddaughter Ihila Bell of Yarmouth, Maine, admired.

“She has always been a role model for me because she’s always been extremely independent,’’ her granddaughter said. “Her husband died a few years ago, but she still laughed a lot and had a really good sense of humor. We were always laughing.’’

Because she was constantly reading and learning, Mrs. Bell excelled in trivia, and when not rooting for Boston sports, she favored television programs such as “Jeopardy.’’

“Everyone knew not to call from 7:30 to 8 p.m. because she would be watching ‘Jeopardy.’ You just don’t call then,’’ Richard said.

Mrs. Bell was a patron of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for more than 50 years, attending Tanglewood with the same group of friends annually.

In addition to her son, daughter, brother, and granddaughter, Mrs. Bell leaves three sisters, Kathleen Harvey and Dorothy Barbaccia, both of Delray Beach, Fla., and Barbara Pouliot of Goffstown, N.H. Services have been held.