A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

Paul Gervais Bell Jr. (1922-2016): Statesman – Patriot – Leader

The memorial service for Paul Gervais Bell, who died on October 31, 2016, held at St. Martins Episcopal Church, was perfect – brief, traditional, and reverent. It reflected his respect for ritual and protocol. The magnificent sanctuary structure added dignity and relevance. It reflects the very best of construction craftwork and construction company leadership, two areas that were of major importance to him throughout his life.

Those of us from the construction industry called him, “Paul;” those from his other walks of life “Gervais.” By whatever name, we all know he was as fine a person as we have ever known, so the church was predictably full. The Right Reverend Pittman McGehee’s eloquent homily, replete with poetry, movie lines and reflecting his Jungian mastery, portrayed Paul as a “fully individuated individual,” a man who achieved “all that he was born to be through baptism,” and, “as one of the Easter People, Paul would move to an afterlife having been a Good Man and Good Leader here.”

He was a singular man, with diverse dimensions and great depth. He had an engineer’s mind that relished complex problems and sequential step solutions; he had a historian’s heart that treasured the human anecdotes that order the march of chronology and a poet’s soul that honored words, especially those used precisely and powerfully, like “duty” and “honor,” words he repeated often and that tangibly inspired his many achievements.

Those two words are those of a soldier, and of a patriot – he was both. He volunteered for World War II, becoming an officer, leading a Tank Destroyer Unit, marching across Europe with a weapon that could penetrate the German tanks. He followed family tradition: His father and every generation of male ancestors had served as officer since the revolution! He was a member of the Society of Cincinnati, open only to decedents of officers who served directly on General George Washington’s staff! He epitomized the men of “The Greatest Generation” – giving everything, asking nothing. It was an inspiring tribute that Secretary James Baker attended; people of class and character attract.

He founded PG Bell Company in 1952 and later Amistad Construction. He had worked for Farnsworth and Chambers after completing his service and finishing at the University of Texas. He served our construction industry at every level. He was the Houston AGC President, Director and Labor Chairman; he, with Leo Linbeck and Dick Lewis, formed the Texas Building Branch AGC, and served as President and Director. He was a Director of the National AGC and chaired many key committees, including the one that met with the National Building Trades Union Presidents. He testified before the US Senate and Congress, especially on issues related to pension challenges. He had a special passion for apprentices and their training schools, ensuring they were well funded. When the Open Shop movement began to dominate, he tried to persuade the union heads to convert the schools into neutral training facilities serving the entire industry.

How prescient! He would have enthusiastically embraced the Construction Career Collaborative (C3).

He served on boards of Texas Medical Center Institutions, St Luke’s Episcopal Hospital, Texas Medical Center, Inc. and the Thermal Energy Cooperative for a combined 50 years. He and the late George Bellows partnered with Richard Wainerdi, PhD to guide the planning and construction requirements of the largest medical center in the world. Paul and George were both recognized for their efforts; he has a structure that bears his name; George a street. Their efforts honored the Houston Construction Industry. He served on many other boards, several relating to Texas History, others to Patriotic Societies. He collected rare maps and books.

Perhaps most of all he was an informal mentor and model for so many of us. We want to always conduct ourselves like he did; achieving consistent results while being the consummate statesman and gentleman. He had a military respect for rank as the basis of a chain of command which he always respected and followed: for rank as the expression of earned privilege for duties well-discharged, and for rank as a strategic signal-sending method in negotiations. It was a true “master class” to watch him orchestrate who should attend a given meeting and more importantly, who shouldn’t. He also modeled how to soldier through with a mourning heart during the loss of two sons, a lesson that became all too meaningful and relevant.

Like all things of value, his memory will appreciate with age. Men like him enter our lives infrequently. He leaves all of us an immeasurable fortune with his exemplary life. He deserves our highest industry farewell, where we rise as one body, render a perfect military salute, our bodies braced in reverence and respect, our minds resolved to emulate him, our hearts grateful and appreciative for his presence. Thank you, Mr. Bell.