MORGANTOWN — Sean Sikora was a bit nervous the first time he met Bob Bell.
A Republican, Sikora was a political novice and a county commission candidate when a mutual friend working on Sikora’s campaign suggested he meet Bell, who served as Monongalia County Commission president for seven of his 12 years on the body (1998-2010).
“I really wasn’t sure how that was going to go because Bob was a Democrat stalwart and here I’m a Republican who’s never ran for office,” Sikora said. “I think it ended up being a three-hour lunch. If you’ve ever met with Bob or sat with him for a 15-minute conversation, hours go by.”
Bell died Monday at the age of 85. The commission office will close Friday to allow staff to pay their respects.
“I guess Bob saw something in me and he made himself available for any questions I had. He was just a wealth of information,” Sikora said, explaining that the three-hour lunches continued after he was elected to the commission in 2016.
“The county really owes him a debt for his service over the years. It’ll be hard to replace people like him. I could go on and on.”
Bell had a distinguished military career and served on a lifetime of boards, agencies, commissions and clubs across the county. His efforts as a commissioner included helping lay the groundwork for the Monongalia County Justice Center. His love of dogs fueled the creation of the Monongalia County Canine Adoption Center.
County Clerk Carye Blaney first met Bell as a young girl, when he ran Big B Supermarket, on University Avenue. Years later, Bell was the commission president when the body appointed Blaney to take over the clerk’s office upon Mike Oliverio’s retirement in 2007.
“He was a very hard-working commissioner and business man and he was very astute at making sure the county was well ran,” Blaney said. “He was always very forward thinking. He was always watching the pennies … He was missed when he was no longer on the county commission and he’ll certainly be missed now.”
Monongalia County Administrator Rennetta McClure recalled meeting Bell when he was sworn onto the commission in January 1999. “He quickly became one of my favorite people, she said.”
“Commissioner Bell was many things to many people. He was a mentor, storyteller, public servant, amateur comedian and, most importantly, my dear friend,” McClure said. “Bob had a profound impact on my life, both professionally and personally. I pray for comfort to all who knew him as his presence in this community will be dearly missed.”
The commission also took a moment Wednesday to mark the Aug. 28 passing of Shelby Leary, 84, a lifelong Democrat who was a three-term member of the West Virginia House of Delegates and the first female appointed as West Virginia Commissioner of Labor.
“Shelby Leary was one of the first real representatives of the western end [of Monongalia County] and she really spoke for the western end,” Commissioner Tom Bloom said. “I always jokingly said that when I first met her, she scared the hell out of me.”
Commission President Ed Hawkins said Bell encompassed the spirit of the county commission — county and community over political affiliation.
He said he worked with both Bell and Leary through various agencies, like 4-H.
“Tom was exactly right. She might have scared you at first, but the woman had a heart that was so big and her leadership capability was always right on,” Hawkins said of Leary. “I can’t do anything but compliment her.”