By: Roger Bell, Editor
June 14, 2017 | 12:50 P.M.
SUSSEX – Hundreds turned out from around the Commonwealth to say goodbye to a man characterized as a community icon.
Sussex County Sheriff Raymond Randolph Bell, 55, passed away June 3, and Saturday, law enforcement officials and community members came in great numbers to Sussex Central High School to send him on his final journey home.
The ceremony, which preceded Bell’s interment at the Bell Family Cemetery on Riegal Road in Emporia, featured other public safety personnel as well, with fire departments bringing their ladder trucks in tribute to a man who served his community in law enforcement since 1982, when he was hired in Sussex under then-Sheriff E.S. Kitchen Jr. as a jailer. Bell became a patrol deputy in 1983 and achieved the rank of Lieutenant in 1989.
After promotion to Captain on April 1, 2007, Bell became Interim Sheriff only four months later, then was elected in his own right on November 6, 2007.
He served as a DARE instructor and was President of the North Carolina-Virginia Law Enforcement Association in 1992.
The Sheriff received the Excellence in Education Award in 2010, and was a member of the Medal of Valor Review Board from 2002-2005. Bell also served as one of the administrators for the Crater Criminal Justice Academy.
According to his biography, Bell’s mother, Nettie Bell, announced Bell had decided he would be a police officer when he was only four years old. Family friend Rodney Coleman stated during the service Bell was the only person he knew who had lived “his childhood dream.”
Bell was born in Emporia and graduated from Greensville County High School and attended Southside Virginia Community College. He is survived by his mother and his two children, Tyler Ramon Bell and Ariel Bell-Byrd.
After musical tributes and prayers, members of the community were able to pay tribute to Bel through their words, with Sussex County Interim County Administrator Vandy Jones leading off, stating he found Bell to be an interesting person to work with.
“I had the privilege of working with the Sheriff for two of the (10) years he was Sheriff,” Jones said. “He was an interesting guy who got things done.”
Jones added Bell would accomplish things whether it went smoothly or not, and there was a way to tell those rare occasions would things were not going smoothly.
“He had no problem speaking his mind,” Jones said. “Or telling you what he thought. But I would know if we were in one of those not-smooth moments when he would pause and say, ‘I wonder if you would look better in orange or stripes.’”
Jones also said Bell was a man of conviction.
“He believed in what he was doing,” Jones said. “He believed what he was doing was right, and most of all, he loved what he was doing. Sheriff Bell loved Sussex County. You don’t serve a County for 35 years without loving it. Raymond Bell was a good man, and Sussex County is a better place for having had him as Sheriff.”
Petersburg City Sheriff Vanessa Crawford, Vice President of the Virginia Sheriff’s Association, said Bell was an “icon in this community,” and said he touched many lives and saved many lives. Crawford added Bell had great affection for many people around him.
“Not only was he a friend to me, he was a great friend to Sheriffs all over the Commonwealth,” Crawford said. “But also a great friend of the County’s seniors and youth.”
Greensville County Sheriff Tim Jarratt spoke next, saying Bell was a mentor to him.
“And more than being a mentor to me, he was my friend,” Jarratt said. “As he is to so many of you. All of us have stories, if you knew Sheriff Bell, you have a story.”
Jarratt read the poem “When Tomorrow Starts Without Me,” by David Romano, then closed with some words of encouragement for those left behind in their grief for Bell.
“We could say a lot about Sheriff Bell,” Jarratt said. “If you trust in our Lord and Savior, you will find comfort and peace.”
A visibly emotional Emporia City Sheriff Sam Brown talked about his friendship with Bell, including the fact that he, Brown, was from Sussex County and ended up as Emporia Sheriff while Bell, a native of Emporia, became Sheriff of Sussex County.
“I could tell so, so many stories,” Brown said. “When you met a person like Raymond, there are so many things we could talk about.”
Brown also extended his friendship to those left behind in the wake of Bell’s passing.
“When you talk about Raymond, you talk about a friend who would do anything for you,” Brown said. “I’m here, my office is here. If you need me, pick up that phone and call me.”
Sussex County Interim Sheriff Ernest Giles, who served as Bell’s second-in-command at the Sheriff’s Office, said he was working driving a truck when Bell pulled him over in 1991 with several co-workers in the vehicle with him. As Bell approached the vehicle, Giles remembered his co-workers, all of whom were older than himself — Giles said he was 19 at the time — promising to help pay for the ticket he was about to get from the then-Deputy Bell.
After being quizzed by Bell about his age and seeing the van full of workers, Giles said, Bell looked at him and told him, “Young man, I normally give one break a day. You got your break.”
Giles promised to carry on the mission of the Sussex County Sheriff’s Office as the County sought to move on after losing their Sheriff.
“I will continue to move this department forward,” Giles said. “As Sheriff Bell wanted me too. No matter what it takes, we’re going to stay together. I don’t want anyone standing in the back, I want you here beside me.”