Our People: Deb Bell

By Jill Nicholas

Spend time, long or short, around Deb Bell and the result's akin to being caught in the vortex of a nitro-glycerine driven explosion.

Those who know her, as many will, know this woman's pure dynamite. Yet, conversely, the longer she talked about herself to Our People the more introspective she became.

Our chat, she said, reminded her of life's fragility (her father, the late Laurie Neill, died at 46) and of the need to get even more done than she has yet accomplished. Those achievements already fill page after page of one of the most comprehensive CVs we've yet to see.

In her own words, thoughtfully produced on a series of flip cards, she is "high energy, creative, inspires confidence, is down to earth with a 'real time' approach that can make a visible difference."

That's no idle boast.

For the past five years she has been a self-employed business coach, after an impressive career in a wide range of business organisations, and is passionate about giving back to her community.

In 1985 she founded Special Olympics in Rotorua for those with intellectual disabilities, acting as its regional co-ordinator for 16 years.

As a founding member of the Sunrise Rotary Club, she is an assistant governor within the organisation and was instrumental in establishing a Rotaract Club and six Interact clubs for local youngsters.

Well before she broke through what had traditionally been Rotary's all-male ranks, the Rotorua North club made her a Paul Harris Fellow, an honour acknowledging personal and professional skills.

With so many impressive attributes and achievements notched up, it follows that we want to know what makes Deb Bell, Deb Bell.

It's a question she thinks long and hard about, hazarding a guess that perhaps being the daughter of a car salesman had something to do with the innate determination that has driven her throughout her 56 years.

She suspects it also helps that her hair's flaming red.

Hastings born, she arrived in Rotorua as a 2-year-old, spending her school years at St Michael's Primary and the then McKillop College.

Her Catholic connections remained with her into adulthood, studying to be become a teacher at the church's Loreto Hall in Remuera.

Her first posting was to Avondale's St Mary's Primary. "I've been at Catholic schools well over 20 years of my life."

During her final training college year, Deb met her first husband, tailor David Trew.

They married in 1977, separating seven years on.

She blames the proverbial seven-year itch.

Shoehorning the couple's 2-year-old daughter, Amy, and two suitcases into her small car she headed home to Rotorua.

"I went into the Countrywide Building Society and said they couldn't afford not to employ me ... they took me on."

As a business development representative, she called on factories and businesses, convincing employees to open savings accounts.

It is almost a waste of words to say this dynamic woman was an instant success.

During her decade with the building society she was the first female to score $1 million worth of accounts opened.

"It was amazing because when I arrived I was pretty much a square peg in a round hole."

When the building society merged with Countrywide Bank, Deb became assistant manager. Rotorua was the bank's biggest provincial branch.

"I managed to convince my opposition, a male, that I was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice and let him go to Auckland."

Studying part-time at Waiariki, she acquired the New Zealand Bankers Certificate and National Certificate in Business.

Meanwhile, she had married dental lab owner Chris Bell.

"He wooed me by volunteering to be the Special Olympians coach for 10-pin [bowling], spending his Sunday mornings with me and 20 Special Olympians."

She is chuffed he asked Amy, then 10, for permission to propose.

After son Richard's birth, she worked as Chris' practice manager.

It was a winning partnership, taking the title of best service business at the city's Business Excellence Awards in 2000.

"Winning that led to a lot of business mentoring, coaching, the catalyst for much of what's motivated my career since."

That career has included New Zealand Trade & Enterprise programmes for small to medium businesses and contracting to the Rotorua District Council's community safety projects, including facilitating the Amped 4 Life programme in the city's secondary schools.

There is more, far more, and Deb's community input remains prodigious, prompting the question how on earth does she manage to juggle so much?

"It's simple, I follow my advice to those I motivate - Life's all about making a difference."


Deb Bell (Nee Neill)

Born: Hastings, 1956

Education: St Chad's kindy, St Michael's and McKillop College, Loreto Hall Catholic Teachers' Training College

Family: Husband Chris Bell, daughter Amy Trew and son Richard Bell, two granddaughters. Mother Margaret Neill,

Interests: Family, "advancing my career to benefit others and serving my community", walking (has walked Rotorua marathon from 2000-10, now trimming back to halfs; Dress for Success organisation, helping co-ordinate fundraising for Ronald McDonald Family Retreat, fostering road safety and driver awareness for teenagers

Life's Highpoints: Setting up Special Olympics in the city, being the first woman president of a Rotorua Rotary Club; speaking to 3500 delegates from Asia and the Pacific at a HR summit in Singapore "I got permission to use the '100 per cent pure New Zealand' brand, basing it on Rotorua's amazing scenery"

Personal philosophy: "Leaving a legacy that our community is better for having lived here"

- Rotorua Daily Post

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