H. Glenn Bell, Surgery: San Francisco

Professor Emeritus

H. (Harry) Glenn Bell's long, rich, and successful life began on a farm in Hillsboro, Ohio on March 2, 1893, and following a brief period of declining health, ended in San Francisco on January 28, 1981. His early life on the family farm provided contact with Dr. Gropper, the Bells' family physician, who undoubtedly nourished young Glenn's interest in medicine by allowing him to attend visits to patients and occasional surgical procedures with him. Glen Bell served as a medical corpsman with the U.S. Army in France and Germany during World War I and then returned to school where he earned a teaching credential which prepared him for a teaching assignment in Bellingham, Washington. However, his desire to follow a medical career caused him to return to Ohio where he earned a B.S. and then an M.D. degree at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. He married his childhood sweetheart, Carol Simmons of Koshocton, Ohio in 1923 and began a six-year training program in general surgery at Cincinnati General Hospital. His professors, Drs. Heuer and Reid, were former Halsted surgical residents who provided a strict and rigorous program of training, as would be expected of former Halsted residents.

Following his surgical training, Dr. and Mrs. Bell moved to Southern California to begin a surgical practice. Then, Howard C. Naffziger, the preeminent neurosurgeon and chairman of the Surgical Department at UCSF learned of Bell's ability from Reid and offered him the position as Chief of the General Surgical Service. The Bells accepted this position and arrived in San Francisco in 1930 where Bell began an association with UCSF which spanned nearly four decades. As Associate Professor of Surgery he organized the Division of General Surgery according to the Halsted tradition of surgical training which he had learned in Cincinnati. Although young, only 38 years of age when he accepted the appointment, he was immediately recognized and respected for his unique skills in the surgical treatment of his patients. Clearly, he was dedicated to the care of his patients and his warmth, frankness and honesty earned him the respect

and admiration of both patients and colleagues. He displayed a profound interest in understanding the pathology of the surgical specimens he removed and ingrained this habit in his residents, many of whom had a rotation in surgical pathology to enhance their skills in this very important aspect of surgical training.

Dr. Bell taught by example and his technical skills and ability to make critical and timely decisions during operations were the examples his residents recognized as of crucial value in mastering the discipline of surgery. He realized the value of research and pioneered the concept of an elective research laboratory rotation within his long and arduous surgical training program. This permitted residents the opportunity for a period of duty dedicated to surgical research experience. This initially occurred by rotations to other medical centers including his alma mater, Cincinnati General Hospital, but in later years the faculty of the Department of Surgery at UCSF provided the guidance for the surgical residents assigned to research.

He served as professor and chairman of the Department of Surgery from July 1, 1946 to June 30, 1956, but continued the practice of surgery until the age of 75, performing as many as three or four complicated operations daily. He passed along his great technical skills to his residents together with a warmth and compassion he exhibited for both patients and colleagues. He sincerely felt and taught that it was a unique privilege and the highest form of personal compliment to operate upon another human being.

H. Glenn Bell was a member of the founders groups of the American Board of Surgery, the Society of University Surgeons, the Pacific Coast Surgical Association, and the San Francisco Surgical Society. He was elected to the presidency of the latter two organizations in 1947, and 1957 respectively. He was a member of the American College of Surgeons and the prestigious American Surgical Association. In 1961, Bell was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree by his alma mater, the University of Cincinnati and in that same year an honorary Doctor of Law degree from the University of California.

The Bells' first-born, Janet, became a nurse, and their second H. Glenn Bell Jr., a radiologist. Dr. Bell was proud of his farming heritage and had a productive home garden where he grew prize-winning artichokes as well as a variety of other delicious vegetables and beautiful plants. He was fond of golf and extremely proud of several father-son tournament championships he and Glenn Jr. won at the San Francisco Golf Club.

H. Glenn Bell had a full and rewarding life. His distinguished surgical career and achievements are widely recognized and his superb personal characteristics, grace, warmth, empathy and profound integrity are known by family, students, residents, and colleagues now scattered throughout the world. He unquestionably achieved success which is aptly defined by Ralph Waldo Emerson:


to laugh often and love much;
to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
to earn the approbation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to give oneself;
to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and such with exultation;
to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived--this is to have succeeded.

Ronald J. Stoney