Cover photo for William "Bill" Ralph Bell's Obituary
William "Bill" Ralph Bell Profile Photo

William "Bill" Ralph Bell

December 7, 1928 — February 2, 2015

William "Bill" Ralph Bell

Lt. Commander William “Bill” Ralph Bell, USCG (Ret.), 86, formally of Americus, GA and Panama City, FL, passed away on February 2, 2015 in Falls Church, VA. Born in Ellaville, GA December 7, 1928 to Horace and Leacy Grantham Bell, Bill was the fourth child of a family of fifteen children.   

Bill joined the USCG in 1946 and served tours in NYC, Hawaii, Florida and Japan before attending Officer Candidate School at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut.  In his early military years in NYC, Bill served as a scribe/transcriber for the Nuremberg Trials.  After he became an officer, Bill had tours in Texas and Washington DC before becoming Commanding Officer of the USCG Cutter Cartigan home ported in Panama City, FL.  Bill was instrumental in the establishment of the USCG station located on Panama City Beach, FL.   In his last tour, he was Assistant Chief, Search and Rescue, 7th Coast Guard District, Miami FL where he was administrator of all the search and rescue operations over water comprising the Atlantic Ocean from North Carolina to Key West, the entire Caribbean Sea and the eastern Gulf of Mexico.   During his time in service, Bill completed his BA at George Washington University and MEd in Mathematics at Auburn University.  After retiring from the Coast Guard, Bill had a second career as a math teacher and professor at Gulf Coast State College in Panama City, FL.  In his spare time, he enjoyed his family, traveling, farming and raising cattle.

After retiring a second time in 1997, Bill and his late wife, Judy Jane Harbuck Bell moved to Americus, GA, and built their dream home on Lake Collins. Bill and Judy became active members of Central Baptist Church where Bill was a member of the Senior Men’s Sunday school class.  In addition, Bill was a long time member of the Americus Civitan Club and was twice voted Civitan of the Year in 2003 and 2006 for his leadership and volunteer work.  He was also a member of American Legion Post 191 in Ellaville, GA.

While Bill had an accomplished career, his first love was his family.  Bill's first wife, Sandra Hawley Bell died in 2008 and their children Malinda (Larry) Zimmerman of Vienna, VA, Mark (Abbie) Bell of Cary, NC and Melanie (Al) Mainwaring of Houston, TX survive him along with his stepsons, Todd (Christy) Lightner of Americus, GA and Ashley (Leah) Lightner of Warner Robins, GA; Bill has 11 grandchildren, Jill Bell Boswell, Ashley Zimmerman, Josh Zimmerman, Chase Lightner, Arlene Bell, Tina Bell, Jonathan Zimmerman, Victor Mainwaring, Kirsten Mainwaring, Broxton Lightner and Jett Lightner who will miss their Granddaddy's tickles, hugs and games of Scrabble and Rumikub. In addition, Bill had one great grandchild, Madison Boswell and she, along with Brox and Jett, gave him much joy in his later years.  Bill is also survived by his sisters, Laura Jean Bennett, Marilyn Sue Gurley and brother, Boyette Bell along with many nieces, nephews and extended family.    

Bill “Billy” lived an honorable life and enriched the lives of all that knew him.  We will miss him dearly. 

A memorial service with full military honors will be held 11:00AM on March 7, 2015 at Central Baptist Church, 190 Upper River Road, Americus, GA with interment immediately following at Oak Grove Cemetery in Americus, GA.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial donations be made to the National Parkinson Foundation at or Hospice Foundation of America at

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of William "Bill" Ralph Bell, please visit our flower store.

Past Services

Memorial Service

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Starts at 11:00am (Eastern time)

Central Baptist Church

Americus, GA

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