Bernard White Bell Jr.

1948 - 2019

Memorial Services

Remembering Bernard White Bell Jr.

Ray A. Williamson, SCAAS Secretary

SCAAS mourns the passing of Board Member Bernard White Bell who died this August in a fatal car crash near Denver, Colorado. Bernard, age 70, is survived by his wife, Linda, and by his son Christopher Alan Bell, and daughter Pearl Woodruff Bell, as well as three younger siblings and several grandchildren. 

I have a vivid memory of the first time I met Bernard.  It was March 2006, atop a sand dune in western Libya. He, Linda, Pearl, and my wife Carol and I were all in Libya to observe the 2006 total eclipse. But prior to the eclipse we had a few days to visit Ghadames, a Berber village and UNESCO World Heritage Site near the border with Algeria and to witness a bit of life of the local Taureg community. What brought us to the top of the sand dune, along with some 40 other people from across the U.S. and the U.K., was the chance to witness the “green flash” at sunset, the phenomenon that occurs at the very last moment of sunset or the initial moment of sunrise when atmospheric and horizon conditions are just right. The desert is a great place to see it. But, I got so interested in talking to Bernard that I nearly missed the green flash.

What an amazing coincidence! It also turned out that Bernard and his family owned a second home in a lovely canyon just south of Cortez, Colorado where Carol and I live. Even more amazing, Bernard had a strong background in astronomy and a compelling interest in cultural astronomy, especially Inca astronomy. Over the years, Bernard had worked with several astronomers, explorers and archaeologists in examining the many Inca sites throughout Peru, including Machu Picchu and Vilcabamba, the so-called Lost City of the Inca, now called Espiritu Pampa. As I later learned, Bernard had made some 15 research trips to Inca sites, discovering and verifying a number of important astronomical alignments. His last trip to Peru took place this past Summer Solstice, where he collected some interesting and exciting archaeoastronomical data at Vilcabamba.

While talking with Bernard on that sand dune, I discovered that he was also deeply interested in Southwestern cultural astronomy, an interest that later led to his contributing two papers to our 2016 conference. Both articles will appear in the forthcoming conference volume. Bernard has also contributed an innovative photographic method to the study of cultural astronomy, which makes use of nighttime photography to “map” the region of sky of interest and allowed him to pinpoint astronomical alignments from a location without the need for cumbersome survey instrumentation. His interest in the work of SCAAS and obvious organizational skill led us to invite him to join the Society Board, a move that we made official at the April 2019 conference.

Bernard was born in North Carolina in 1949. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree with distinction (double major in Astronomy and Physics), and an M.S., and Ph.D. in Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona (AU). While at AU, he developed an interest in climbing that served him well when he discovered a passion for Inca astronomical knowledge and practice.

As an optical engineer and inventor, Bernard had worked for a variety of corporations on cutting edge optical problems, including Hewlett Packard, Applied Magnetics Corporation, Mass Optical Storage Technology Inc., TeraStor Corporation, DataPlay, Inc., and Seagate. As if all of this were not enough, Bernard learned Spanish and was certified as an instructor of Kundalini Yoga.

In tribute to Bernard and his contributions to cultural astronomy, we are dedicating the 2016 conference volume to him. Bernard was a wonderful colleague and a very thoughtful and warm human being. He was a lot of fun to be with. We’ll miss him greatly.

Bernard’s family held a deeply moving memorial service for him in Boulder, Colorado in August at the Sunrise Amphitheater high above Boulder. Carol and I attended and heard from many of his friends what a warm and loving person was Bernard. The family will host a second memorial for him in Tucson in November.  See for further information. The family has listed SCAAS as a possible recipient for donations in his memory.

Donations in Bernard’s name are being accepted by Clicking Here.

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