Obituary: Kathleen Bell

By Ron Hayes

DELRAY BEACH — Kathleen Bell was the power behind the phone.

12438185465?profile=RESIZE_180x180When readers called to report that The Coastal Star had failed to appear in their driveways, she reassured them we would not fail again. When they called to praise us, she passed the praise along. When retailers called to advertise, she connected them with a salesperson.

She ordered our supplies. She made sure everyone got paid.

And when chaos threatened, she remained calm, assisted by Pippi, the office cat.

The paper’s office administrator for the past 10 years, Ms. Bell died April 5. She was 73 and lived in Delray Beach.

“Kathleen brought a much higher level of organization to our bookkeeping and elevated our customer service,” said Jerry Lower, the paper’s publisher. “Occasionally her wry sense of humor would surface and trigger welcome laughter in our little office.”

Ms. Bell was blessed with both a soft voice and a dry wit. When reporters and photographers dropped by the office, she liked to maintain the fiction that the sleeping Pippi was her feline co-worker, reporting with a straight face on the cat’s workload and conversation.

Kathleen Therese Bell was born on June 25, 1950, in Mitchell, South Dakota, and grew up in Florida.

“She was also the keeper of family stories,” recalled her youngest sister, Maureen Kussler.

Their mother missed Kathleen’s high school graduation in Jacksonville because she was busy giving birth to Maureen, 18 years younger, in Fort Myers.

“Kathleen used to say that I was her high school graduation gift,” Kussler said.

She liked chocolate, books and being in charge.

“And she was good at it,” her sister said. “She cultivated many lifelong friendships and was really good at keeping in touch with people.”

Ms. Bell learned the art of telephone diplomacy in the early 1970s, while working as an assistant to editor Malcolm Balfour at The National Enquirer.

“She was the best thing that ever happened to me there,” Balfour recalled. “In those days the paper had a horrible reputation and people didn’t want to talk to us, but she could get anybody on the line. And then she’d demand they be polite. She was just dynamite, and I had the highest respect for her.”

Chip Biays met Ms. Bell in 1981, when she served as matron of honor at his marriage to her best friend, Carol Wershoven, whom she’d met in 1969 while Carol was her teacher at Marymount College, now Lynn University.

“Carol was the only one to call her talented student Kathi,” Biays said, “and both the name and quirky spelling endured.”
Later, Ms. Bell went on to earn a master’s degree in English at Florida Atlantic University, and spent most of her professional career in property management.

“She was as comfortable around the conference table discussing architectural renderings and plat surveys as she was in a graduate seminar or cooking class,” Biays added.

Working for the Arvida real estate corporation in the early 1980s, she met Kathy Assaf when both volunteered at her alma mater.

“We just hit it off,” Assaf said. “We had the same view of life. Both Catholic and very religious and concerned with doing things in a prayerful manner.”

That friendship endured, and when Ms. Bell was released from the hospital after surgery for a benign brain tumor in January 2023, Kathy and her husband, Ron, welcomed her into their Boca Raton home until she’d recovered.

“It was fun, we had a good time,” Assaf recalled. “And then the last time she was in the hospital, near the end, I brought her a rosary from the Holy Land. She had it clutched in her hands and would mumble the prayers along with me.”

Ms. Bell was predeceased by her mother, Cathleen; her father, Michael; and two sisters, Michelle and Suzanne. In addition to Maureen Kussler, she is survived by her sisters Monica and Julie; her brother Geoffrey; several nieces and nephews; and Pippi, the office cat.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 1 p.m. May 3 at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church, 840 George Bush Blvd., in Delray Beach.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to any of her favorite charities: Lynn Cancer Center, Lourdes Noreen McKeen Residence, Christ the King Monastery, Fisher House

Foundation, the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County or the Florida Press Foundation Community News Fund.

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