Houlton councilor ‘Jim’ Bell dies unexpectedly

3 years ago

HOULTON, Maine — Town officials were stunned to learn of the June 19 passing of councilor and business owner Harry “Jim” Bell.

Bell, known by many as the kind and soft-spoken owner and proprietor of Wired Cafe in downtown Houlton, returned to the Houlton area after working for many years in the greater Boston region.

Harry “Jim” Bell (Contributed)

His death was posted on the Wired Cafe Facebook page with the following statement: “Jim Bell, founder and owner of Wired Cafe, passed this morning. We will be setting up a memorial at Wired in the near future, so please look for that announcement.”

The cause of his death was noted as complications from liver disease.

“Jim was such a kind, gentle man,” said council chairman Jane Torres. “He was a great voice of reason on the council and someone who was always willing to think outside of the box. I loved working with him and will sorely miss him.”

“My heart is extremely saddened for the loss of a fellow council member, neighbor and more importantly dear friend,” added councilor Eileen McLaughin. “He touched my heart in the relatively short time I knew him. I wish it were longer.”

McLaughlin recalled the first time she met Bell on Pleasant Street. “I was telling him how I admired his house,” she said. “He and his partner invited me right in with kind hospitality showing me around his beautiful home without hesitation.

“Not long after, we became council members together,” she continued. “He brightened my soul every time our eyes met. We had this special camaraderie from the start. He made me smile inside. His demeanor was always gentle, kind and sincere. He was smart, handsome and articulate.”

“Jim  was a dedicated and tireless advocate for Houlton’s downtown, even prior to his time on council,” noted councilor Sue Tortello. “He was a compassionate and thoughtful individual who maintained an open mind and ready ear to opinions that may have been different from his own.  I consider it an honor to have served with someone of his caliber and am truly saddened that affiliation ended entirely too soon. My sincere sympathy to his family and many friends.”

Bell was elected to a three-year term on the Houlton Town Council in November 2019. In an October 2019 interview with the Houlton Pioneer Times prior to the election, Bell said that he had moved back to Houlton to enjoy “semi-retirement” after three decades in the Boston area. Bell had worked in operations management and occupancy support services for corporate real estate at companies including John Hancock, Aetna Insurance, Microsoft, Nokia Systems and Hong Kong Shanghai Bank.

He opened Wired Cafe, a coffee and internet shop in downtown Houlton, and often hosted art galleries for local artists.

“Much of my family still resides in the Houlton area and I have a strong desire to see Houlton prosper, grow, be able to keep future generations here and to attract people to come here to live,” Bell said in his election profile article. “I believe I have something to offer to help with the functions of the council.

A staunch supporter of economic development, Bell said that working to bring new businesses to the area, particularly the downtown, was one of his primary goals.

“Growing our local economy is key for the revenue side of the equation. There has already been some good work done with regard to the airport with a lot more opportunity still there; the Route 1 North corridor will most likely stay strong. We see the seeds of good things in the downtown area, and I would very much like to see that area blossom into a vibrant destination, not just for local residents but for visitors as well,” he said.

Bell also expressed his desire to bring a fresh approach to the council.

“I have no personal agenda to push at the town council. My main goal is to bring honesty, open-mindedness, and a fresh perspective in providing responsive and responsible oversight and direction for the operations of the town. As a group, the council members can help shape a future direction for the town through careful, collaborative, and analytical thought and consensus building.”