Hugh Bell (pictured), longtime president of Rio Grande Jewelry Supply, died on Sept. 20, following a long illness. He was 79.
Hugh Bell was the son of Rio Grande founder Saul Bell. He joined the company in 1962, after receiving a hardship discharge from the Air Force when Saul began cancer treatments, according to the company’s site. Saul eventually recovered and returned to the company, working there until shortly before his death in 1996.
Hugh Bell became president of Rio Grande in 1966 at just 24 years old. Under his tutelage, the company grew from a small, regional jewelry wholesaler with a handful of employees to a company with over 400 associates.
Sister Molly Bell, who still works at the company as executive vice president (but plans to retire at the end of this year), says that her brother ran the business as a family, with high ethics.
“He used to walk around the company on a daily basis and greet everyone, which turned out to be a lot of people,” she says. “He believed in doing business in a humane way and making sure that everyone felt important and valued. One person told me, ‘Whenever he came by and talked to me, and asked about my family, he always made me feel like I mattered.’”
She adds that Hugh Bell authored the 15 principles that have long guided the company.
“He believed that everyone could do better, and challenged people to do so,” Molly Bell says. “He always took the high road, believed in not being a victim in life, and always wanted to figure out how to get through things with the highest integrity.
“He was just so patient and kind,” she adds. Once, after she erred on a project, he told her, “If that was the biggest business mistake I ever made, I’d be happy about it. I’ve made worse.”
Hugh Bell retired in 2012; that same year, the company was purchased by the Richline Group, which is part of Berkshire Hathaway. Hugh Bell was succeeded by his brother Alan Bell, who retired in 2020.
Hugh Bell is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Margaret; sons Oliver and Adrian; grandchildren Ronan and Elise; and siblings Eddie, Neil, Alan, Martin, Molly, and Bruce.
(Photo courtesy of Rio Grande)
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