AMERICUS, Ga. - Former U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell was laid to rest Wednesday in his hometown in southwest Georgia, with friends and family looking on.
The crowd, which a funeral director estimated at more than 500 people, gathered for a 45-minute graveside military funeral at Oak Grove Cemetery, just outside downtown Americus.
"When God made Griffin Bell, he gave us a treasure," said the Rev. David Sapp, pastor of Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta, which Bell attended. "In fact, I think God worked really hard making Judge Bell. He was one of the best put-together people I've ever run across."
Bell died Monday of kidney failure at age 90. He had been treated at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta for complications due to pancreatic cancer and kidney disease, which he had fought for years.
He was for decades one of Atlanta's most prominent attorneys and served as the nation's top lawyer in the administration of his longtime friend, Jimmy Carter.
Carter, who lives in nearby Plains, had to miss the service because he was attending a luncheon for presidents at the White House. Carter plans to attend a memorial service for Bell on Friday in Atlanta.
Bell was born in 1918 in Americus, 10 miles from Carter's hometown. Their families were well acquainted even though Bell was six years older than Carter.
Bell served just 2 1/2 years at the Justice Department, leaving in mid-1979 - at his own request - to return to his Atlanta law firm, King & Spalding. But he called his tenure as attorney general "the best job I ever had," and he remained close to the action in government by maintaining a law office in Washington. He also remained a key adviser to Carter.
Bell joined the Army in 1941, before the United States entered World War II, and served five years in the transportation corps, rising from private to major. He also was a federal appeals court judge.
Sapp spoke of knowing Bell for 10 years as a Sunday school teacher and chairman of the deacons.
He recalled that as chairman, Bell set up a complaint session on Wednesday nights and urged church members to attend and air their gripes.
But Sapp added that Bell told them, "If you didn't do it now, don't ever do it again."
Mercer University president Bill Underwood eulogized Bell as a man who, more than anything else, "was about service to others."
Underwood said Bell, a 1948 Mercer alumnus, became a member of the Macon university's board of trustees in 1967 and served six terms, including four years as chairman. Underwood also noted that Bell attended his last board meeting at Mercer on Dec. 4.
Members of the Georgia National Guard Military Funeral Honors Team served as pallbearers and Sgt. Jeffrey Forthman from the 283rd Army Infantry Center Band at Ft. Benning played taps. Afterward, the honor guard folded an American flag, which was presented to Bell's wife, Nancy Kinnebrew.
In addition to his wife, Bell is survived by a son, Griffin Bell Jr., granddaughter Katherine Bell McClure, grandson Griffin Bell III and five great grandchildren.