Former U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell, 90, died Monday morning in Atlanta after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
Bell, former attorney general of the United States during the Jimmy Carter administration, was a towering figure in the nation’s legal field for decades. As a senior partner with King & Spalding LLP, Bell represented controversial clients such as tobacco firms. The American College of Trial Lawyers even renamed its Committee on Unpopular Causes after Bell.
“Judge Bell’s long record of public service, especially his efforts to enact FISA and champion civil rights, exemplified his dedication, integrity, and fearless pursuit of justice,” said Attorney General Michael Mukaskey, in a statement. “He was not only an outstanding Attorney General, but also a true gentleman.”
In a December interview with Atlanta Business Chronicle, Bell talked about his new book “Footnote to History: A Primer on the American Political Character” and said he was at peace and ready to die.
Bell celebrated his 90th birthday on Oct. 31, a milestone doctors didn’t think he’d reach. He was given two to five months to live nearly six months ago.
“I wouldn’t be disappointed if I died right away, but it’s nice to keep on living,” Bell said in December. “I’m thankful for the extra time I’m getting now.”
In recent months, Bell was touched by warm letters from people he met throughout his life. He’s had two long talks with former President Carter, and although they didn’t always agree, they always liked each other.
“I got a beautiful letter from former President [George H.W.] Bush,” said Bell, who helped Bush during the Iran-Contra controversy.
His new book is a compilation of “vignettes” that describe certain historical aspects of American politics. The book will make readers aware of the struggles that America’s early leaders had to endure to ensure the survival of its political system. Bell said many of the writings were papers that he wrote for “The Ten,” a 100-year-old esteemed group of local leaders where members write a paper once a year.
“As a respected counselor to political leaders on both sides of the political spectrum, Griffin Bell’s impact on our state and nation spanned multiple generations,” Gov. Sonny Perdue said in prepared remarks. “He had a unique ability to explain complex legal matters plainly and to bring people together over even the most contentious of issues. On a personal note, I am grateful for the counsel he provided to me during my time as governor.”
Atlanta Business Chronical