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Obituary: Sally Bellows

05 November 2003


Sally Bellows, manager of student services for the School of Public Health (SPH), and a longtime member and leader of the Berkeley Staff Assembly (BSA), died on Wednesday, Oct. 22, at her home in Albany. The cause was a recurrence of liver cancer, following surgery for that disease in April.

“I can’t emphasize enough how well loved this woman was on campus,” said Helen Halpin, professor of health policy. “She touched so many lives here; it’s a huge loss.”

Bellows, 53, had worked on campus in various capacities since 1986. Most recently, she had managed the Office of Student Services and Admission at SPH since September 2001, providing oversight for the business functions associated with student life at the school, including admissions, course scheduling, and processing financial aid. Previous jobs at SPH included a year as a staff research associate and more than four years as an analyst at the Center for Health and Public Policy Studies (CHPPS). Prior to that, she spent nearly a decade working as a staff research assistant in the psychology department.

Her involvement with BSA began in 1994 and culminated last year, when she served as the group’s coordinator. She was deeply involved in establishing PeerNet, an informal networking of staff who perform similar functions or share common interests across the campus. She was also active in BSA’s Career Development Committee, producing an online career-development handbook in her first year and encouraging the group to establish a Staff Mentorship Program, currently in the pilot planning stage. During her term as coordinator, she served as an alternate delegate to the systemwide Council of UC Staff Assemblies and initiated a letter-writing campaign in support of the concept of a Staff Regent.

“Sally was truly an inspiration,” says Paul Riofski, current BSA coordinator, “and all of us in BSA can only hope to live up to her legacy of love and devotion in working for a supportive work environment for staff at all levels of the university.”

‘Universal affection’
Though Bellows had an academic background, earning a graduate degree in psychology from Stanford in Germany in 1975 and doing other graduate work at the University of Tuebingen, most of her career at Berkeley was spent in administrative roles. SPH’s Zak Sabry, a professor of public health nutrition, recalls how he recruited Bellows to work with him on a longitudinal study on the development of obesity.

“She was brilliant in the work she did with me on that study,” he says.”Beyond Sally’s research capabilities, it was her relationship with the participants, with the staff on the study, and her tendency to always be looking after everybody that won her universal affection.“ Not incidentally, he says, those qualities contributed to keeping the participant cohort together over the long timeframe such studies require.

Bellows’ friends and colleagues on campus remember her personal qualities, even as they attest to her evident professionalism. Barbara Hadenfeldt, her predecessor as BSA coordinator, says Bellows was “extremely innovative, with a positive approach and optimism that were legendary. She was unfailingly generous with her time, her opinions, and her energy. I recently looked at the BSA website because I wanted to nominate Sally for a Chancellor’s Outstanding Staff Award … but found she’d already received the award at least once!” Her death, Hadenfeldt says, is “a huge loss to the staff community.”

Halpin, director CHPPS, recalls hiring Bellows in April 1997 as the latest in a long series of organizational-support staffers when the center was in its earliest stages. “Sally was like an angel sent down from heaven,” she says. “She immediately took over and allowed me to just do my research. She helped me hire people, get grants, devise systems, get the computers organized … there was nothing she couldn’t do, and everything she did she did well, with a smile. She was not only a close colleague but a close friend.”

In 1987 Robert Levenson, now director of the Institute of Personal and Social Research, was a newly hired full professor from Indiana University who had just received a grant to start a longitudinal study of longterm first marriages in middle age and early old age. “I wanted a research assistant who could work closely with a sample that we hoped to study for 20 years or more,” he says, “and who could also help manage my laboratory and work effectively with a large group of talented people.” Of Bellows he says, “You couldn’t have asked for a person who combined all those skills any more effectively. I really felt like the gods had smiled on me.”

Staying off the science treadmill
Bellows’ administrative work provided her with real satisfaction, a number of her associates point out. Says Levenson, “I worried that over the years she would see all these talented people getting their doctorates and moving on, and she might feel badly that she wasn’t on that path. But she had made a decision about the kind of life she wanted to live: she wanted an interesting job and to do work she thought was important, but she also wanted to raise a family and have a solid life at home. She wasn’t going to jump on the science treadmill.”

“She liked the idea of a challenge,” says Sara McMenamin, director of research for CHPPS. “When she came over here, she told me she wanted to get things whipped into shape and then be on her way. I don’t think she ever imagined she’d stay the four years she did with us.”

Those four years were, by Halpin’s and McMenamin’s accounts, not only incredibly productive but filled with warmth and friendship. Says Halpin, “Everyone loved coming in to work; we all really cared about each other.” Recalls McMenamin, “Anyone who knew Sally would characterize her by her laughter, her big belly laugh. Wherever you were you would hear it, and it would bring a smile to your face.”

“She was a caregiver,” recalls Zak Sabry, who as associate dean for student affairs at SPH was Bellows’ supervisor in her last position. “She really cared about everyone working with her or around her. “ Echoes Levenson, “She established a tradition of caring, noncompetitiveness, support, and involvement in each other’s lives that continued even after she left the lab. The people who were in the lab then are all devastated by her death. So many have written back to me in disbelief.”

Bellows’ husband, Hellmut Meister, manager of information systems at International House, met Bellows during a year she spent in Germany following her graduation from the Stanford program there. They were married in Southern California in 1976 and moved to Berkeley a decade later following the birth of their second child. He describes her as “a great reader” with a special love for Victorian novels. She enjoyed doing needlework, playing bridge, and gardening — and was especially devoted to her family.

“Sally immensely enjoyed being a member of the campus community,” he says, “and it showed through a lot of activities that were not directly related to her job. She felt that being a part of that community was a major part of her life. The family has received a lot of support from people on campus, and we are grateful for it.”

Bellows is survived by her husband; daughters Sarah, 21, and Anna, 17; parents Ruth and John Bellows, of Rossmoor; brothers Jim, of Oakland (a recent SPH Ph.D.), and Richard, of Fort Collins, Colo.; and sister Judy, also of Colorado.

A memorial for Sally Bellows was scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 5, in the Great Hall at International House.

The family requests that donations be sent to the Heifer Foundation, P.O. Box 727, Little Rock, Ark. 72203, labeled “in memory of Sally Bellows.”
— Jonathan King