In Memoriam: Peter Dexter Bell

Apr 10, 2014

Peter Bell, a rare individual

A Eulogy by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso

It is with emotion and a deep sense of sorrow that I join you in spirit this morning as we remember and celebrate the life of our dear friend Peter Bell. Only those who have witnessed Peter's hard work and dedication to protect  and support social scientists like me and all those affected  by the violence of the military coups in Brazil and Chile in the 1960s and 1970s can understand the greatness of his actions.

Without Peter and the support of William Carmichael, who was then the representative of Ford Foundation in Brazil, many of us would have been forced to emigrate or give up our life careers as researchers - not to mention more difficult situations that led many to prison. It was thanks to Peter's understanding, to his inquisitive spirit, his intelligence and sense of solidarity that organizations like the one I helped to create in São Paulo in 1969 - after the abominable Institutional Act number 5 that expelled us from public universities - were able to sustain themselves and stay true to the search of truth. Peter did later in Santiago the same courageous work he had done in Rio and would continue to do in other places to the benefit of humanity.

Today it is relatively easy to act as a liberal and a democrat, guided by the values that so distinguished our departed friend. During the years of authoritarianism, when fear replaced common sense and courage, few dared to be disagreeable to those in power, especially if you were a foreigner.

Without ever ceasing to be the polite and elegant man he was, Peter faced very difficult situations to help us, including in his own country, but did not give up. He supported those he saw as deserving, regardless of the beneficiary’s ideology and the risks of his courageous attitude. His name is engraved in the History of those who fought for decency and democracy.

For me, Peter was more than a public figure. He was a friend. I remember with emotion the visit I paid with him to his parents’ home, in Gloucester, a lovely New England town, to where he returned with Karen after doing good work in so many places. Once in New York, in a moment of anguish, Peter shared sad news about the health of some of his relatives. I believe he confided in me because he knew of the esteem I had for him and for his father, an exemplary Republican.

I never forgot my visit to Peter, his wife and children in their family home in Atlanta, when he was at the Carter Center. Or his work at Care , where he invited my wife Ruth Cardoso to serve on the board of one of their initiatives.

 I fondly remember Peter in the meetings of the Inter-American Dialogue, of which we were part from the beginning. He was always looking for balance and to advance good causes. And how could I forget our long evening conversations with Abe Lowenthal about matters we cared deeply about.

I leave with you my word of  respect and saudades to this great American, a man of the world who was, at once, so discreet, affectionate, constructive and the perfect gentleman. The social sciences in Latin America and all of us , his friends,  owe Peter a great debt of gratitude. We will never forget him.   

Read by Paulo Sotero, Director of the Wilson Center Brazil Institute, at a memorial  service  held on Wednesday, April 23, 2014, at the Universalist Unitarian Church, Gloucester, Massachusetts.

 

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