Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories


Charles & Danny Bell

Charles &
Danny Bell

Honored June, 1996

Charles G. & Diana 'Danny' Bell

Charles Bell was the son of a Mississippi lawyer, and grew up in a home devoted to social justice. Diane Bell (known to most of her friends in Santa Fe as “Danny”) was born into a Quaker family in Maryland, and grew up in a home devoted to social justice. They wedded in 1949 and shared a marriage of 55 years. Together they became Living Treasures in 1996, and seldom has a partnership been so well-bonded for the honor.

In an era when men usually led the way in a marriage, Charles was a Rhodes Scholar, and became a renowned professor at some of America’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning: Princeton University, the University of Chicago, St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md.--and then the sister St. John’s campus in Santa Fe, where he came in 1969, shortly after it opened. He taught here until he retired--and afterward.

Danny, however, was certainly an equal partner in the joint enterprise. She was the prime home-care-giver to their two daughters, she taught elementary school, she wrote children’s books--and once in Santa Fe she made sure that their home and this city were welcoming beacons on a worldwide scale. As a team, they did remarkable things.


For more than two decades, both as a St. John’s tutor and after retirement, Charles offered a weekly presentation of his monumental 40-part series titled Symbolic History Through Sight and Sound, a complex, poetic synthesis of great art, music and literature of the Western world, from the ancient Greeks to modern times. Combining photographic slides (most taken by Charles himself), recorded music, quotations from great authors, dancing, literary passages, and visiting artists of every kind, his presentations were, in the words of one admirer, “a performance piece, a revery, a revelation.” Not merely lectures.

Charles also presided over small reading groups in his house, tackling the world’s great literature--Don Quixote in Spanish, Faust in German, the Divine Comedy in Italian. Along the way, he lured many of the foremost contemporary worldwide writers to speak in Santa Fe. Many of them stayed at the Bells’ home. Some moved here. Danny took them hiking, showed them birds, taught them gardening, and corresponded with them.

A Living Treasures nominating letter said: “It’s a rare month when the Bells don’t have house guests who are not in one way or another are not contributing to the cultural life of the city. They welcome a steady stream of ‘wandering scholars,’ professors of philosophy, literature, mathematics, who find themselves between assignments.”

In the words of another tribute: “If you asked them, ‘How do you contribute to the community?’ they’d probably have to rack their brains, because they take their good works for granted. They’re just doing what people do. Need a ride to the hospital in a hurry? Call the Bells, they’ll drop everything. A young man in need of a home, after his father’s sudden death? The Bells make room for him, until he can get back on his feet.”

When Danny died in 2004, a daughter said, “You wouldn’t believe how many heartbroken letters I’ve been getting from all over the world. She didn’t let friendships go. She took care of people.” Her obituary: “Her spirit was a guiding, stabilizing force.”

Charles lived on, and never stopped giving to the Santa Fe community. Reflecting upon his contribution, a supporter wrote: “You may have run into him in front of our upscale hotels, lobbying for a living wage for dishwashers and housekeepers. Charles Bell does not inhabit an ivory tower. In fact, in his house his study is at ground level--somehow emblematic of his involvement with the world at his doorstep.”

And in the words of one of his own poems: “Your old men shall dream dreams …”