The COPH pays tribute to its founder, Sam Bell

| Academic & Student Affairs, COPH Home Page Feed, Featured News, Monday Letter, Students, Take Note!

Samuel “Sam” P. Bell, III, father of the USF College of Public Health (COPH) and overall champion of USF, died March 14 at the age of 83.

Bell, the husband of former USF president Betty Castor, served in the Florida Legislature for 14 years. He dedicated himself to improving health policies throughout the state, particularly those policies that affected children.

Sam Bell, founder of the USF College of Public Health, served in the Florida Legislature for 14 years. (Photo courtesy of WUSF)

When USF recognized his contributions to the university and the community several years ago with the prestigious Class of ’56 Award, he commented that by honoring him, he hoped the university was really honoring the COPH.

“It’s my main claim to fame,” he told a reporter at the time. “I had no particular connection to the college when we embarked on bringing a school of public health to Florida,” he added. “But the decision to bring it to USF turned out to be a great choice in every way. At USF, the COPH is seen as an equal partner in the health system.”

Bell celebrated his Class of ’56 Award with his wife and former USF president, Betty Castor. (Photo courtesy of Congresswoman Kathy Castor’s office)

Bell’s contributions to public health are long and illustrious.

He helped bring about Florida Healthy Kids, a government-subsidized insurance plan that became the model for the national Children’s Health Insurance Program. His efforts also led to the state’s regulation of tap water temperatures to prevent scalding injuries, the subsidization of adoptions of special needs children and the establishment of a network of neonatal intensive care units.

“Sam’s contributions to children and public health truly helped shape our state,” said Laura Kolkman, a USF COPH Advisory Council member, a council that Bell once chaired. “I’m honored to have known him and call him a friend.” “His work will live on through USF and the many children’s causes he championed,” added Dana Nafe, another advisory council member.

Bell worked tirelessly on behalf of the university and college.

Bell received an honorary degree from USF in 2009. Here he stands with COPH dean Donna Petersen. (Photo by GradImages)

According to Kara Steiner, senior director of development USF Health, Bell established three funds in the college, one for graduate students to study public health disparities in Africa, one for the general needs of the college when he was chair of the Dean’s Advisory Council, and most recently, a scholarship for students studying public health policy. He also supported the Salud Latina program, jump-started numerous other scholarships in honor of retired faculty members for programs like health management, tropical medicine and maternal and fetal health and initiated the Global Health Symposium, which took place in 2019.

Bell and his wife, Betty Castor, supported all things USF. (Photo courtesy of Congresswoman Kathy Castor’s office)

“Sam was the first one to contribute to get things moving,” said Steiner, who worked with Bell on many initiatives and scholarships. “In our last meeting, his goal was to get the directorship of the Chiles Center endowed to ensure that the health of women and babies remains a priority for our college and the state of Florida in perpetuity. No one loved the USF College of Public Health more than Sam Bell and his impression on the college, its faculty, research, students and programs will be felt for decades to come.”

According to COPH Dean Donna Petersen, it’s Bell’s commitment to service that will be his lasting legacy.

“I don’t know what drove him to be so dedicated to service and improving the human condition. But he was and he did, in everything he touched,” Petersen said. “He was strong and persuasive, but always gracious and kind. He was someone who just seemed to deeply understand people at both the individual and collective level. He understood that people need to be cherished and that communities need to be supported. Whether it was his role as a lawmaker, philanthropist, advocate or volunteer, he was inspired by the things that would make a difference in people’s lives. And in so doing, he inspired us to want to keep doing everything we can to make a difference, too.”

Visitation will be held on March 30, 2023. A memorial service will be Friday, March 31, 2023. For more information on the funeral arrangements and to read more about Bell’s life and service, click here.

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health