The Chief Retires

The Bridge Builder
An old man, going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.

The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim, near,
“You are wasting strength building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep, and wide—
Why build you this bridge at the evening tide?”

The builder lifted his old gray head:
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me today,
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.”

Will Allen Dromgoole

“The Bridge Builder” is one of Chief Judge Bell’s favorite poems, and was the theme of a statewide, two-day event in his honor, which was held in April and hosted by the Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) and the Friends of the Honorable Robert M. Bell Committee.

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After more than 38 years of public service in the Maryland Judiciary, Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell announced in April that he would retire July 6, 2013, his 70th birthday. Under Maryland law, state judges must retire at age 70.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to have been permitted to serve the State and its citizens,” Judge Bell wrote in his letter to Gov. Martin O’Malley. “To them, and to my judicial colleagues, without whose assistance and cooperation nothing of worth could have been accomplished, I offer my sincere thanks and deepest appreciation for the opportunity.”

Chief Judge Robert M. Bell

Judge Bell has served at all four levels of Maryland’s courts. He began his career with the Judiciary in January 1975, when he was appointed judge by then-Governor Marvin Mandel for the District Court for Baltimore City. At the age of 31, he was the youngest judge in the state. He was elevated to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City (formerly the Supreme Bench) in 1980 and, in 1984, he was appointed to the Court of Special Appeals, Maryland’s intermediate appellate court. In 1991, Judge Bell joined Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, and five years later, in 1996, then-Governor Parris Glendening named him chief judge. With this appointment, Judge Bell became the first African-American to lead the Maryland Judiciary, which handles more than two million cases each year. 

Judge Bell has served as the 23rd chief judge of the Court of Appeals, a court which was formally established by the Maryland Constitution in 1776, but whose history as a Colonial court stretches back to the middle of the 17th century. The Court reviews more than 600 petitions for writ of certiorari each year, along with attorney discipline matters, certified questions of law, and bar matters.

As part of his many duties as chief judge, Judge Bell has managed a workforce of more than 4,000 employees and determined the annual budget of more than $450 million.