In Memoriam

Wendell Bell, sociologist helped found field of futures studies

Wendell Bell
Wendell Bell

There will be a memorial service in January for Wendell Bell, professor emeritus of sociology, who died on Nov. 3 at the age of 95.   

Bell had been a member of the Yale faculty since 1963; during that time he served as chair of the Department of Sociology, director of the Comparative Sociology Training Program, and senior research scientist in the Yale Center of Comparative Research. Under his leadership as chair of sociology, the range of research and courses taught by the department was diversified as the faculty grew.

He was widely known for his part in founding the field of futures studies, postulating  possible, probable, and preferable futures and studying the worldviews and myths that underlie them. In 2005, The World Futures Federation awarded him a Lifetime Achievement award in recognition of his many contributions to that field. Earlier, his research focused on social class, race, and family life in American cities and on elites, nationalism, and social change in the new states of the Caribbean.

Before joining the faculty at Yale, Bell taught at Stanford University, Northwestern University, and the University of California-Los Angeles. During World War II, he was a naval aviator, serving in the Philippines.

Bell was author or coauthor of 10 books and more than 200 articles, chapters, and book reviews. In 2008 the Association of Professional Futurists selected his two-volume “Foundations of Futures Studies” (1997) as one of the 10 most important books published in that field. He was hailed as a giant among futurists and crucial role he played in founding of what is now a distinguished department at Yale.

Bell was described by his family and friends as a moral, ethical man, who was kind, considerate, generous, and optimistic. He loved interacting with his former students and fellow futurists worldwide, right up until he entered the hospital. In his emails, he discussed questions and answers to the important moral and ethical issues of the day. His optimistic view of life, love, and beauty was both contagious and therapeutic, say those who knew him, and he was a wonderful, fun and humorous husband, loving father, and a bemused grandfather and great-grandfather.

Bell is survived by Lora-Lee, his wife of 72 years; his son David Howard Bell; his daughter Karen Ann Case; five grandchildren: Nancy and Sean Sullivan, Noelle and Rob Page, and Kevin Case; and great-grandchildren Bryn and Rhys Sullivan. He was pre-deceased by his daughter Sharon Lee Bell.

The memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 3 at the Unitarian Society, 700 Hartford Tpke., Hamden, Connecticut, with a reception to follow. In lieu of flowers, contributions in Bell’s memory may be made to Yale University and directed to the Department of Sociology, earmarked for “Graduate Sociology Student Expenses”; donations will aid with travel and research.

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