The College of Public Health (COPH) building, inaugurated in 1984, was renamed after its founder Samuel P. Bell on Tuesday.
Bell died on March 14 after several years of involvement with the university. He was also first gentleman to the fifth USF President Emerita Betty Castor.
Gathered on Lot 38C in front of the building, current and past USF administrators, President Rhea Law and three Ph.D. candidates spoke to a crowd of over 200 people.
Law said Bell’s accomplishments as a former Florida state representative and founder of the college were significant. Awarding Bell with the Distinguished Citizen Award during this year’s spring commencement wasn’t enough, she said.
“We knew we wanted to do more,” Law said. “It wasn’t that we knew we had to do something to celebrate Sam in a really big way, but isn’t it appropriate we do it now during homecoming.”
COPH Dean Donna Peterson spoke on Bell’s high involvement and constant phone call check-ins. She said Bell visited classrooms often. Peterson introduced current COPH students.
As one of seven sons in a Latino family, Ph.D. student Erik Ruiz said he was inspired to found the Salud Latina program. The 2021 initiative addresses the issues in the hispanic /latino community caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to USF Health’s website.
Bell’s support and involvement led the movement to create the Latino Caucus for Public Health, according to Ruiz. The caucus focuses on improving access to and quality of health care for Latino communities in the U.S.
“Mr. Bell quickly became our biggest cheerleader, sharing our name and works generously with everyone he interacted with in meetings, events and fundraisers,” Ruiz said.
While most of the speakers focused on Bell’s academic contributions and his impact on the child health care system, his wife, Castor, spoke about his passion, making the crowd laugh with a pause on her address.
“During 34 years of marriage, I became very familiar with Sam’s passion,” Castor said. “Oh yes, very familiar with his passion.”
Castor said Bell kept all his minutes and handwritten notes from meetings in a drawer at his home office, along with different business cards for all his titles in the college.
“I can’t remember a time that he pulled those minutes of a meeting or those agendas to look at them, but I think the fact that they were there gave him comfort,” she said.