University of South Florida


Mike Griffin, Rhea Law, Betty Castor, Donna Petersen, Jay Stroman

(L-R) Mike Griffin, vice chair of the USF Board of Trustees, USF President Rhea Law, USF President Emerita Betty Castor, wife of the late Samuel P. Bell, III, Donna Petersen, senior associate vice president of USF Health and dean of the College of Public Health, and USF Foundation CEO Jay Stroman.

University of South Florida names College of Public Health building after Samuel P. Bell, III

By Kevin Watler, University Communications and Marketing

Sam Bell and Betty Castor

The late Samuel P. Bell, III and his wife, USF President Emerita Betty Castor

The University of South Florida today announced that it is naming its College of Public Health Building after the Honorable Samuel P. Bell, III.

Bell, who passed away on March 14, is considered the “father” of USF’s College of Public Health and was a longtime champion of USF and Florida residents.

“Sam Bell was a passionate champion for the University of South Florida, and we are proud to honor his profound legacy by dedicating the College of Public Health building in his name,” said USF President Rhea Law. “His influence and impact on public health policy will continue to benefit our university, region and state for generations to come.”

A House leader from Volusia County from 1974 to 1988, Bell identified a growing need for public health professionals in the U.S. He sponsored legislation to create Florida’s first college of public health at USF in 1984 due to the university’s unique combination of having an urban setting and a medical school. 

Group gathers at an event under a tent

“There would be no college of public health, no building to name, without a Sam Bell,” said Donna J. Petersen, senior associate vice president of USF Health. “He was a tireless advocate for public health and used his passion, his position and his powers of persuasion to create out of nowhere, the first college of public health in the state of Florida, at USF.”

Petersen, who also serves as dean, added that it was the only college of public health in the state for many years, and that Bell served as the first and only chair of its advisory council for nearly 40 years.  

“He was a huge presence in this building. All of us convene and learn in the Sam Bell auditorium,” she said. “Students benefitted from his generosity in the scholarships he supported and from his wisdom when he guest-lectured in the classroom. He came to our events and he enthusiastically supported new initiatives like the Salud Latina program. We know and love Sam inside the college. Naming the building proclaims to the outside world how much Sam meant to us.”

Donna Petersen and Betty Castor embrace

Bell laid the groundwork for Florida Healthy Kids, a government-subsidized insurance plan that became the model for the national Children’s Health Insurance Program. His work led to Florida leading the nation in regulating tap water temperature to prevent scalding deaths, improved the process for subsidized adoptions for children with special needs, established a network of neonatal intensive care units and fought to ensure passage of the bill requiring child restraints in automobiles.

“We are so grateful to Sam Bell, whose determination and passion for public health laid the groundwork for the USF College of Public Health to become the national leader that it is today,” said Charles J. Lockwood, executive vice president of USF Health and dean of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. “We are delighted that we can rename the college’s headquarters as the Samuel P. Bell, III Building to honor his legacy and reflect his many contributions to improving the lives and health of all Floridians.” 

In 1989, Bell married then-Florida Education Commissioner Betty Castor, who would become USF’s fifth president. Bell met Castor when both were serving in the state Legislature. They created a family of six children, and now, 10 grandchildren. Castor today announced an additional legacy gift to the College of Public Health. 

"Sam had a deep passion for serving the citizens of this state and this university in so many ways,” Castor said. “He would have been humbled and honored knowing his legacy will live on through his beloved college because of the students, faculty and patients he cared about so deeply."

Samuel P. Bell, III building

The university also announced a $100,000 gift from Florida Healthy Kids to establish an endowed fund focused on future discoveries in child health insurance and health policy, which will be used to offer scholarships to masters- and doctoral-level College of Public Health students.

The couple’s philanthropy continues to have a major impact on USF. In addition to the College of Public Health, Bell served on the advisory boards for WUSF Public Media and the Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies. He also served on the USF Foundation Board of Directors, and along with Betty, endowed scholarships for USF’s College of Public Health, School of Music and women’s athletics.

“Sam Bell’s contributions to the University of South Florida are immeasurable,” said USF Foundation CEO Jay Stroman. “Through their philanthropy, service and advocacy, Sam and Betty have forever changed our USF community for the better. There is no one more deserving than Sam Bell for this honor and his legacy will endure for generations to come.”

Bell’s previous recognitions from the university include a 2009 USF honorary Doctor of Public Health as well as the university’s highest honor to a non-alum, the Class of '56 Award, presented in 2018. He was posthumously awarded USF's Distinguished Citizen Award at the university's 2023 spring commencement in May.

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