LAS VEGAS, NV -- Jim Bell moved to Las Vegas from Montana in 1967 to join his uncle's Whittlesea Taxi Service.
And it wasn't long before he went on to create Las Vegas's first two limousine companies.
Jim Bell died Wednesday at age 70.
He was never too much the front-office executive to mind getting a little dirty.
His son, Brent Bell, recalled that he would wait in the front yard every Friday night for his dad, who sometimes arrived late, covered in grease. "He would have changed clothes after a full day at the office and put his grubby overalls on, to help the mechanics fix the vehicles" so the company had enough to get through the weekend, the younger Bell said.
By the time Jim Bell retired 11 years ago, his company, known as Bell Trans and which had grown to include mini-buses and a Strip trolley service in addition to taxis and limousines, had become what his family says was the largest single-city limousine company in the nation.
"He helped turn a gambling stop in the desert into a city that could have as much class as New York City and that takes a back seat to no one," said Bill Shranko, who worked for Bell for 13 years and who is now chief operating officer of Yellow Checker Star cab company. "He was quite the legend in the industry."
Bell, who was born in Shelby, Montana, on Aug. 8, 1938, started Whittlesea VIP Limousine and Silver State Limousine.
In both business and personal matters, Bell was dedicated and generous, his friends and family said.
Brent Bell, 41, said his father was the kind of boss employees knew by first name and he knew theirs.
"He built just a fantastic business by leading by example," said Bell, who now runs the company.
Added Shranko: "He had wonderful sense of humor, and was a total professional and a gentleman. He built up a customer base that was fiercely loyal" to Bell Trans.
One of Bell's hallmarks was his commitment not just to his own companies, but the industry as a whole.
"I'll never forget him telling me: `If the industry is strong then our companies will be strong.' That was the most important lesson he taught me," Brent Bell said.
Bell also taught his children the value of hard work and to appreciate their privileged life, the son said. When Brent Bell was in high school, his father had him spend three summers working as an assistant to a bricklayer, which the younger Bell said "was the very best thing he ever did for me."
Bell was a constant presence in his family's life. He attended every performance and competition in which his five grandchildren participated, even if he had to fly to Las Vegas from his home in Montana to do so.
Besides his son and grandchildren, Bell is survived by his wife, Michelle Compton Bell, and his daughter, Paula Bell-Saxton.
A committal service will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday at Swan View Memorial Gardens, and a memorial service will be held at 5 p.m. May 18 at Faith Lutheran School Chapel.
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