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Colonel James R. (Jim) Bell, 1938-2023

Colonel James R. (Jim) Bell, 85, of Babson Park, Florida, died on December 12, 2023, after a brief struggle with lymphoma. He was a decorated Air Force fighter pilot and longtime public servant in multiple positions of civil government.

Born April 25, 1938 to Tracy and Dorothy Bell and happily raised in Albany, Georgia, Jim began his flying career as a teenager, achieving his pilot's license in high school. Participating in ROTC during high school and college, he graduated from Emory University with a degree in economics. In 1960, Jim married his high school sweetheart Linda Hard (deceased) and they were blessed with two sons, Chris and Tony. Following his education, Jim was commissioned by the United States Air Force, serving as a fighter pilot and tactical commander for nearly thirty years. He displayed courage, honor, dedication to his country, and earned the respect of his comrades and superiors alike. In 1983, Jim and Susan Clausen (Susie) were married at Luke AFB in Arizona where they were both stationed. Katie and Christie were soon welcomed and the new family enjoyed Jim's last assignment as Base Commander of Tyndall AFB.

Upon retiring from the military in 1989, Jim transitioned to civilian life as the City Manager of Auburndale, Florida. He went on to serve in Polk County government for the next twenty years as director of multiple departments. Jim especially enjoyed flying for the Sheriff's department, providing aerial photography for the county. Throughout his tenure, he demonstrated exceptional leadership skills and a deep commitment to the betterment of the people of Polk County. After retiring from the county, Jim served as Interim Executive Director of the Central Florida Economic Development Council and as President of the Lake Wales Chamber of Commerce.

After his second retirement, Jim remained active in church and community endeavors. He managed his twenty acre family homestead which included a citrus grove. He loved working with his tractor on the land, boating, and hosting gatherings with family and friends. Jim was always ready to share a joke or a thrilling story about his many adventures across the globe. Above all, Jim cherished the time he was able to spend with his children and grandchildren.

Jim was a devoted husband to his beloved Susie and a loving father to his children Chris (Rita), Tony (deceased), Katie (Gerald) and Christie (David). He was a proud grandfather to Curtis (deceased), Gerald, James, Madeleine, Samuel, Esther, Charlotte, Eleanor, and Beatrice. He cherished his sister Anne Sheppard of Summerville, South Carolina.

A memorial service honoring Jim will be held on Saturday, January 13, 2024 at 3:00 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Lake Wales, Florida. Visitation with Jim's family and friends will be at 2:00 p.m., prior to the service. A private interment will be held at family cemetery following the memorial service.

In lieu of floral tributes, the family requests that donations be made to the Lake Wales Care Center. Contributions can be made online at


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