Marie Bell was 102 when she died in January, barely a year after her husband, Clifton, died at 98.
The Bells lived on their own, in their Atlantic City home of 50-plus years, until Marie was almost 99. By then, Marie — or Bertha by birth — was mostly blind and deaf. Clifton had to admit he couldn’t take care of her anymore, so he had to put her in a nursing home just a few blocks from home. But he visited her there every day, said their only son, Charles Bell.
“Everyone couldn’t believe they lived together in that house for all those years,” said Charles, 71, a retired union official living in New York. “And they didn’t have any help — even though she was half blind, she was still cooking for him. They were taking care of each other. It was really like a love story.”
Clifton was actually in good shape until shortly before he died. And the end came suddenly for a man who grew up in Georgia and came to Atlantic City — and met his wife of 67 years — after World War II. Marie had moved to the city as a girl, from Maryland.
“I put him in in the hospital, and in a week he was gone,” their son says. “(Marie) didn’t really know it, because she had slipped into senility. Everyone said that was for the best.”
The Bells were well-known, and admired, at Community Baptist Church in Atlantic City, where the Rev. Elias Thomas said he “inherited” them when he became pastor eight years ago.
By then, Marie’s health had mainly stopped her from going to her church, which she joined in 1949.
“So I knew her via her husband, because he always talked about her,” the pastor said. “But prior to his passing, he would be in here every Sunday.”
Thomas recalls the church giving Marie a 99th-birthday party at her nursing home, “about 60 people,” he says. “She got sick to the point where she couldn’t attend (services) anymore, but her church family loved her.”
Clifton was long retired as a hotel bellman. Marie worked for years as a seamstress in local clothing factories, a job that made her believe in unions — and helped steer her son’s career. She was proud when her Charles went to Cornell University’s labor-relations school and got a job with a union.
Charles was another regular visitor to Marie’s nursing home, even from New York. Near the end, she didn’t have much contact with others, but “I would talk into her ear. ... And she’d say, ‘I know that’s you, Charles.’”
And no matter what else she lost from her past, she never forgot her Clifton.
“She still called his name often — even at 102,” her son says. “She would ask me, ‘Is your father coming?’ And I would just tell her ‘yes.’”
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