Speech: Dr. Stuart R. Bell, 2016 Executive Honoree

LINDA BONNIN: I’m honored tonight to introduce you to Stuart R. Bell, President of The University of Alabama. I began working with Dr. Bell two years ago when he was Executive Vice President and Provost at LSU, and I became Vice President for Strategic Communications. Ironically, when he interviewed me at LSU, I thought his interview was the one I had blown. But I guess I didn’t blow it too badly.

While he’s an engineer by discipline, what struck me most about him– and you’ll appreciate this– is that he is also a great communicator. And that’s not usually a combination that you see. Communications is always top of mind with him. Always.

We worked together at LSU for just seven months when he was named President at The University of Alabama. When he announced he was leaving, I was excited for him, and for Susan, but I was disappointed that I would no longer get to work with them. When he asked me to join him at Alabama, I jumped at the chance to follow someone who was not only so dedicated to his profession but is also so inspirational on both a personal and a professional level. Those of you who know him know exactly what I’m talking about.

The first time I met the deans at The University of Alabama, they asked me to tell them about Stuart Bell. He was still a brand-new president at that time. I replied he’s the most thoughtful, generous, and kind man I’ve ever worked with. He is a leader in the fullest sense of the word. He is someone you want to follow and emulate. He is the kind of man who leads by example, with his character, his work ethic, and his passion for students and his family.

The room got very quiet until one dean spoke up and said, wow. I can honestly say that I learn something every single day from Stuart Bell, and he’s one of the most genuine people you’ll ever meet. But you can talk about Stuart Bell without mentioning his wife, Susan. She is indeed the wind beneath his wings. Susan, would you please stand.


The Bells have such a solid family, three children, and one granddaughter, but they also have quite an extended family that I’ve learned about. They stay in touch with students they’ve mentored over the years. And in fact, I understand there is a standing invitation for any of them to stop by when they’re passing through Alabama. And quite a few of them end up spending the night at the president’s mansion at The University.

Daniel O’Donnell is here with us tonight. I think Daniel is over here. There you are. He also knew the Bells when he was a student years ago. And Daniel, you might want to take them up on that invitation, by the way.

The Bells are welcoming, hospitable, and generous people. Several of you may have seen the New York Times article last weekend and know that Dr. Bell goes on a lot of student recruitment trips in his role as president, not only in Alabama, but to Texas, Connecticut, Tennessee, and all over the country. And he invites students that he interacts with to come by and see him when they come take their campus tour.

And they take him up on that. They bring their moms and their dads to see the president in his office. And guess what? They end up enrolling at The University of Alabama. How could they not?

I heard about one of Dr. Bell’s former students this summer. I saw on his calendar he was planning a long weekend, and I asked where he was going. He said Kansas. Well, being a communicator, I’m the inquisitive type, so I wanted to know why they were going to Kansas. And I asked why he and Susan were going to Kansas.

He said a former student of his was getting married. Well, I thought that was very sweet of them to fly all the way to Kansas for a wedding. But then I learned something else– he was actually walking her down the aisle. He said she’s like one of our own children. And that’s what personifies Stuart and Susan Bell.

My first couple of days on the job at Alabama were quite hectic and interesting. We had four major PR situations arise in the first three days. And they were challenging and all-consuming. I passed Dr. Bell in the hallway on my third day, and he looked me straight in the eye and asked, but how are you doing? He apologized for running me so hard, and I assured him I was fine. But that’s the type of leader that he is. In the midst of everything we were dealing with, he wanted to know how I was holding up.

Those of us who work closely with Dr. Bell has learned a few of his habits. For instance, if he says to you, yep, yep, yep, that means you’re on the right track and he agrees with you. But if you hear, well, the challenge with that is, you know whatever you said is just a really bad idea, and just to let it go.

I commend The Plank Center for selecting Stuart Bell to receive this distinguished award. He is a tremendous leader. He’s someone I’m proud to call my boss, my colleague, my mentor, and my friend. So please join me in congratulating Stuart R. Bell, President of The University of Alabama.


STUART R. BELL: Wow. What a great evening. I’m truly humbled and honored to be here at The Plank Center. What a wonderful night that we all share in the honors that are being given tonight. You know, in mentoring I can assure you, in my life, I’ve had so many great fortunes to have great mentors, but also when you have colleagues like those that I have at The University of Alabama, it’s just a great place to be and to mentor. And Linda, you really did do a great job at that interview. So, you can stop thinking about that.

Well again, it’s great to be with you all tonight. And as we think about public relations and mentorships, you know, I think about a university, and public relations in today’s world have certainly changed a lot over the last even couple of decades. Whether we’re talking about recruiting students that I do go all over the country and recruit, and whether those are local or whether those are regions or whether those are national or even international, or whether we’re recruiting faculty or whether we’re trying to communicate our mission, trying to communicate strategic plans of something that we’re doing at The University, what we do in communications and public relations is so different because we’re so digitally connected. And as a group of constituencies, I think that’s a great segue into talking about mentorship, and what we do. And again, whether we’re corporate or whether we’re looking at a university, it’s mentorship is developing the people that we have around us.

You know, I believe for genuine and effective mentorship, and I think I’ve already heard it here tonight, is I believe that you must truly enjoy, you must value, and you must have a passion for those around you. You know, for those of us who have children, and what a great testament we heard just a few moments ago, I think with children our mentoring naturally flows from our passion for our children, but also the high expectation that we hold for ourselves in that relationship with our children.

You know, I think professional mentoring, like so many things, also finds itself there. And that is, if you’re passionate about something if at your core you value those around you and you invest in those around you, what you do shows. Mentoring is one of those things that I guess, in a sense, I would say it requires you to give yourself away to others, building up others. But what a privilege it is to do that. There’s a great book that I read many years ago by Emily Wadsworth on mentoring. And the title of the book I think says a lot. And it is Giving Much but Gaining More.

The second item in mentoring that comes to my mind is listening, and how important listening is. And as you know, today, I think by and large, as society and as individuals, we’re not very good listeners. We need to listen to those people around us. We need to listen to their questions. We need to listen to their needs. We need to listen to their aspirations of where they want to go, not where we want them to go.

Then we need to, after we’ve listened, to provide them the support to help them accomplish and strive for. You know, I’ve found people in my life who were really the best mentors had passion for me, had high expectations for me, but they also listened to me. I’m certainly fortunate and proud to lead a great university and work alongside keen men and women at The University of Alabama that are committed with a passion to the next generation, daily mentoring young people to their aspirations, and to those that we find on our campus every year.

Each year, as our freshman class grows, what I see is that dedication is renewed. It’s refurbished. It’s refreshed. And I think that’s because, in higher education, I think we all realize that’s our lasting footprint. If I were to say anything we do at a university, it is mentoring. It is taking our colleagues, it’s working with our young people, and again helping them not just dream, not just aspire, but to be able to encourage them that they can reach those great aspirations. And what a noble mission The Plank Center has had for many years, and holds that purpose, I think, as you lift up just a few people maybe tonight, but quite frankly this room is filled with so many great mentors, or maybe mentors to become.

So, thank each of you all for this evening. Thank you for the dedication that each of us has talked about tonight, but again, around the tables that each of us live every day. A better tomorrow for those that we are blessed with being able to mentor, and for those mentees that we have hung in there. You can achieve anything that you want to do, surround yourselves with other great people, and your aspirations will come true. Thank you again, and good evening.


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