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Bell: soft-spoken 'good soldier'

Incoming Secretary of Education Terrel Bell, whose appointment has drawn kudos from virtually every corner of the education community, once testified on Capitol Hill in favor of a separate Department of Education.

But now, at the behest of his boss, the soft-spoken Dr. Bell -- rated by friends and colleagues as a "good soldier" who can do whatever must be done -- has vowed to strip that one-year-old department of its Cabinet status and himself of the rank that goes with it.

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A native of Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, and a former Marine Sargeant who specialized in machine gun instruction in World War II, he began his career in education 30 years ago as a small town chemistry teacher and athletic coach. He soon moved on into school administration, serving variously as a district and state school superintendent, as US commissioner of education under former President Gerald Ford, and most recently as Utah's commissioner of higher education.

Those who know Bell say he tends to tackle any job in a quiet, low-key manner. Says one education official who has known him for 15 years: "He's very capable and knows what he's doing, but can do it without a lot of fanfare."

Colleagues also describe him as a warm man with an ability to compromise and impeccable honesty. He is also considered an efficient administrator who supports his staff and openly seeks their advice.

Bell is described as willing to take substantial risks on behalf of policies he feels are right. "He can occasionally be very feisty," notes former New Jersey Commissioner of Education Carl Marburger, who knows him well.

While US commissioner of education from 1974-76, Bell oversaw new and highly controversial regulations requiring school districts to provide bilingual instruction for children from non-English speaking families and was a strong supporter of grant consolidation.

A devout Mormon and family man, Bell and his wife Betty take swimming and skiing trips with their four sons (aged 10 to 23) whenever they can. He is considered a conservative who is deeply concerned about the potential impact on family values of both education policies and curriculum materials. But he also is also, according to colleagues, a firm advocate of a federal role for education, particularly in aid to disadvantaged youngsters.

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