Griffin Bell left an impact as an attorney, political adviser and higher ed supporter | Mercer Legends

Judge Griffin B. Bell
Judge Griffin B. Bell

After graduating from Mercer Law School, Judge Griffin B. Bell went on to become an influential figure in the courts and a trusted adviser to state and national political leaders. Here’s how he became a Mercer Legend. 

Judge Griffin B. Bell

Mercer connection: Mercer Law School graduate and Mercer trustee.

Years at Mercer: 1948 law graduate; six terms on Board of Trustees, starting in 1967; named Life Trustee in 2007.

What he did: Judge Bell was born in Americus and attended Georgia Southwestern College for his undergraduate degree. After serving in the U.S. Army for five years, he went to Mercer Law School. 

Judge Bell was a longtime partner at prestigious Atlanta law firm King & Spalding, but he stepped away from time to time to fulfill state and national assignments. He served as chief of staff to Georgia Gov. Ernest Vandiver from 1959-61; as a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit for 14 years; and as the attorney general of the United States under President Jimmy Carter from 1977-79.

Beginning in 1967, he served six terms on Mercer’s Board of Trustees, including one as chairman, and was named a Life Trustee in 2007. He was a frequent lecturer and panelist at Mercer’s law school. He also chaired two capital campaigns for the University, including the successful “Advancing the Vision Campaign” that began in 2000. Judge Bell died in 2009 at age 90.

Why he is a legend: Judge Bell was a trusted adviser to state and national political leaders, major corporations and jurists across the country. He was an influential leader in the courts as well as in the realms of political decision-making. Many credited him with restoring transparency and virtue to the U.S. Department of Justice after the Watergate scandal.

Judge Bell remained connected to Mercer throughout his life and was a steadfast supporter, helping raise more than a billion dollars in gifts to the University. He was awarded honorary degrees from a number of colleges and universities, including a Doctor of Laws degree from Mercer in 1967. He became the first person to be named a Distinguished University Professor at Mercer in 1983.

The Honorable Griffin B. Bell and Bob Steed.
The Honorable Griffin B. Bell and Robert L. Steed, who was also a Mercer alumnus, Life Trustee of the Mercer Board of Trustees and law partner at King and Spalding.

In recognition of his contributions to Mercer and higher education, the Association of Governing Boards presented its Distinguished Service Award in Trusteeship to Judge Bell in 1999. The Griffin Boyette Bell Chair of Law and the Griffin B. Bell Award for Community Service at Mercer were created in his honor. In addition, Mercer Law School established the Griffin B. Bell and Frank C. Jones Fund for the Enhancement of Advocacy Education and Programs and named the school’s first-floor courtroom the Griffin B. Bell and Frank C. Jones Courtroom in honor of the incredible legacy of the two alumni in 2019.

Quotable: “For countless hours over the years, I sat with him, seeking his sage advice, learning from his wisdom, treasuring his friendship. His thinking was always clear and precise, his voice  articulate, his will resolute. Judge Bell combined a high sense of integrity with a strong measure of grace. With his awe-inspiring wisdom and a rare quotient of insight, he made complex issues transparent, and he characteristically brought light and clarity amidst shadows of confusion. Griffin Bell was more than an outstanding statesman or a great American; he stood as a first citizen of the world whose voice and insights will shape human history for decades to come.” — Chancellor Dr. R. Kirby Godsey said at the time of Bell’s passing

The Honorable Griffin B. Bell
Judge Griffin B. Bell (center)

Mercer Legends is a series that highlights iconic figures who left a lasting impact on the University and its faculty, staff and students, as well as the community.


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