You’re never too old

 You’re never too old

Lorna Bell, 90, really hasn’t ever known a time when she didn’t work.

Even now, the Murray Hill resident still gets into her car once or twice a week to drive to the Jacksonville International Airport where she maintains the desk at the Visitor Information Center in baggage claim.

Bell must love her job because she’s been doing it for 25 years.

“It doesn’t pay a lot of money, but it puts change in my pocket, and it gets me out among people,” said Bell. “It gives me a reason to get up in the morning, and it’s something I thoroughly enjoy.”

When she started in 1990, the visitors’ center was part of the Convention and Visitors Bureau which, after a name change in 2007, is now Visit Jacksonville.

“I’ve never had a job I’ve enjoyed more. I love people,” she said. “You sit here and watch people coming down the escalators, and you see the fashions that will be in and the colors for the coming season. This year it will be purple, green and a kind of yellow.”

When Bell applied for the job in 1990, she had been recently retired after 20 years with U.S. Customs, both in Miami and Jacksonville. “Thirty days after I retired, I started looking for a part-time job,” Bell said. “I didn’t even know what CVB meant when I saw the ad in the paper, but I thought ‘this sounds like I might be able to do it.’”

She was one of seven out of 120 applicants hired to manage the airport’s Visitor Information Center and said she is the last of those seven still at the job. Bell works every Tuesday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and alternate Fridays, but also fills in when co-workers need time off.

LornaBell_01Originally from Utah, Bell worked for 25 years in the banking industry in Salt Lake City, Denver and Miami. Between banking and customs, she worked for six months with the IRS in Miami, but determined it wasn’t the job for her. “It wasn’t very interesting,” she said. “U.S. Customs was a responsible job; this job is a fun job.”

Manning the Visitors Center, however, is just the ticket. She is well-known by regular travelers to Jacksonville and enjoys seeing eyes light up in recognition. “People say to me ‘You were here the last time I came through,’” Bell said.

“Every year for five or six years at least, there’s a gentleman who comes here and always stops just to say hello. I told him this last year, I didn’t know whether I’ll be here next year or not,” she said, explaining that she was completing 25 years at the job. “He said he would look for me anyway. It’s things like this that make this job so interesting.”

Interesting is putting it mildly. Bell has witnessed a man in a wheelchair tumble down the escalator, another man die of a heart attack just 20 feet from her desk, and she once helped a woman who was running away from a violent, abusive husband. “We helped her get downtown to the City Rescue Mission,” she recalled. “I hope she’s doing okay.”

Most of the questions Bell answers are directional in nature – Where is baggage claim for my flight? – and many travelers want to know where hospitals and churches are located. Once or twice a year, someone is surprised to learn they are not in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

Even after 70 years of working, Bell has no plans to retire soon. “Not unless they make me!” she said.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News
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