Judith Hippler Bello ’71 – My Carolina Story

For many years, a member of the GAA Board of Directors has presented a “My Carolina Story” at each of the board’s quarterly meetings, and we are sharing their stories with all of our alumni. Hark the Sound.

“As undergrads, we also learned to empathize with our Black cafeteria workers — paid less than minimum wage — and with our new Black Student Movement, which championed their cause. We practiced holding our University, state and federal governments and ourselves accountable to the rule of law with respect for everyone’s right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”

Sept. 25, 2020

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Judith Hippler Bello ’71

My “Carolina Story” includes serving on this board with members and staff who have earned the right to feel pride in your many good works.

In contrast, I have much to be humble about. If I applied for admission now, UNC would wish me “good luck” elsewhere. As a lawyer and teacher, I offer evidence proving mistakes in judgment that warrant humility.

Exhibit A: I am not a Tar Heel born, though I was born again when I came to Carolina in ’67.

Exhibit B: To discuss college options, my folks drew a circle around our Georgia home large enough to include Florida U attended by Dad’s family. I redirected them to the circle’s North Carolina arc, but foolishly pointed to … Durham. Mom said Duke’s tuition exceeded our means. Quickly recovering from a near-fatal mistake, I embraced Carolina heart and soul.

Exhibits C, D, E, maybe F: I didn’t know many first- or second-year UNC women, as none was admitted (other than nursing students) until ’66. Thankfully, Georgia friend Melinda Lawrence traveled with me so I didn’t feel “alone.” A public school kid, I was at first intimidated by private and boarding school kids.

The 7-to-1 male/female ratio bothered me, too. You might think that ratio helped me in the dating game, but not so. Guys approached this “girl-next-door” type to introduce them to so-and-so. When I landed a date at last, I was so flustered I missed my dorm curfew by 20 minutes. Everyone felt sorry for me ’cause I was grounded for the Carolina-Duke football weekend. But no problem: I had no date, as usual.  I just followed my Standard Operating Procedure and beavered away at my studies.

So naive, I was shocked, shocked that some women signed out from our dorm to study in Wilson Library past our 8 p.m. midweek curfew …  yet somehow met guys at Wilson Library Annex, aka downtown drinking establishments. Another surprise: Melinda and friends organized student-led Experimental College classes. Golly, hadn’t I come here to study with professors? And once on a drive to interviews for selection of Richardson/North Carolina Fellows with Rich Leonard and Jerry Eberhardt, I grew sleepy in the backseat. Those two analyzed whether campus ROTC programs were appropriate during the war. Jerry speculated to Rich, correctly, that likely I had never considered this question. My identity: bookworm.

History Professor Samuel F. Wells sponsored the North Carolina Fellows Program. His foreign policy books exemplify the finest scholarship, like his masterwork How Korea Transformed the Cold War. I’ve known Sam to make only one mistake: For reasons unknown, he chose me as a Fellow. I recall “distinguishing” myself that interview weekend in one way only. Another candidate and I canoeing together on a lake nearby pretended to ram two others paddling. Our boat foundered, and we floundered in the water. My rescuer was a Raleigh guy named Tommy Bello. More later.

From better-informed friends like Carol Spruill, I learned about public policy issues. I joined the Association of Women Students headed by the late Joyce Davis and Gwen Hightower, still a VA nurse. Slowly the light dawned: I could learn as much, and sometimes more, from friends and activities as from books.

In our sophomore spring, I literally ran into the same Tommy Bello who had rescued me from the lake. I had seen him since, but this time I was transfixed! I guess my heart beat on and lungs continued breathing, but that close encounter transformed my life.

On our first date, we attended a rally at Memorial Hall to support striking cafeteria workers. Tom worked that summer for Atlanta’s mayor, and I wrote for the Atlanta Constitution — but only on the women’s page. The men in charge refused to admit me to the newsroom.

Our junior year, UNC started a co-ed “living-learning project” at Hinton James. Women lived on the 10th floor, men on the ninth, no one on the eighth. My parents fretted. For the first and last time, Dad said he’d be embarrassed to tell friends how I was living. So I invited Mom and Dad to come stay in Project Hinton one weekend and judge based on evidence, not pride or prejudice.

They came and had a blast playing bridge into wee hours and chatting with students. I found new friends through them! When they left, Dad said he’d been wrong to judge Project Hinton without evidence.

The Vietnam War loomed large junior year as we watched the televised first draft lottery on Dec. 1. Men with high numbers exhaled deeply, but the war clouded futures of low-number men. Shortly before student government elections, Tom felt called to run independently for president against the party nominees chosen much earlier. He asked me to manage his campaign! I knew nothing about campaigns! Yet I felt he could win if I arranged enough talks for him around campus, ’specially at women’s dorms and sororities. Tom’s huge grin, infectious laughter and articulate talking netted a landslide win. (In fairness, I note that his dad, legendary ACC referee Lou Bello, stumped for him with Ehringhaus athletes.)

Tom was elected just days before President Nixon ordered troops’ incursion into Cambodia. National Guard troops killed four student protesters at Kent State, two at Jackson State. War opposition mushroomed on campuses; some violence occurred, most regrettably. But in Chapel Hill, Tom and other student leaders — like Doug Dibbert, the late Alan Albright, Rich, DTH staff, Joe Shed and other Campus Y kids, graduate students — managed peaceful protests with behind-the-scenes support from President Friday.

Thousands rallied before South Building, where Tom and others mourned students killed and expressed grievances with the war. Crowds then marched along Franklin Street with support from Mayor Howard Lee and Chapel Hill Police. Tar Heels caravanned to Washington to meet with members of Congress. Tom testified before the commission on campus unrest. Despite deep divisions on the war and campus protests, we shared our First Amendment views peacefully in Chapel Hill.

Our senior year felt anticlimactic. Some male students again staged panty raids. Really? And I was humbled once again when Tom broke up with me to date my Project Hinton roommate! I wasn’t mad at her; I understood what she saw in Tom. He and I eventually reconciled and married after his first year at Oxford and mine in law school (with Robert Mosteller, Rich, Melinda and other Tar Heels).

On campus, we women and many men protested Carolina’s double standards. Saddled at first with sexist curfews and dress codes, we graduated “free at last,” relatively speaking. (As Justice Ginsberg lies in state in the U.S. Capitol today, I ask you to join me in saluting her lifelong work to achieve equality for women and all people.)

As undergrads, we also learned to empathize with our Black cafeteria workers — paid less than minimum wage — and with our new Black Student Movement, which championed their cause. We practiced holding our University, state and federal governments and ourselves accountable to the rule of law with respect for everyone’s right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

Thank goodness, my “Carolina Story” continues! A few examples show how fellow Tar Heels have inspired and helped me since graduation.

  • When one son was diagnosed with cancer his senior college year, who immediately reached out to support him? Debbie and Doug Dibbert, of course. Their heartfelt service to humankind as well as our University inspires me to step up and help more myself.
  • My Sherpa into widowhood was classmate Virginia Carson. She gave up her D.C. legal career to serve as executive director, chief fundraiser and renovation guide of our Campus Y. After both our husbands died, she and I shared a pilgrimage in Italy. With wisdom and love, Virginia carried me when I most needed it.
  • At a 2017 board meeting, Chancellor Folt addressed us about yet another chapter in the Silent Sam turmoil. That afternoon, I accompanied Virginia to help distribute food at Heavenly Groceries in Northside. Volunteers included three cafeteria workers aged 90 and up. Spurred by Chancellor Folt’s comments, retired Black employees’ recollections and Virginia’s vision, I drafted a play about racism in Chapel Hill through the lens of the ’68-’69 strike. Its working title: Carolina Black and Blue. Past student body presidents Ken Day and Alan Albright generously helped ensure the accuracy of all fact-based details.

In case you’re wondering, the play has not been produced. UNC readers said they really liked it, but production was impossible without drastic cuts to my sprawling cast of characters speaking in the past, present and future all at once. So far, I can’t part with my characters; to boot, uninvited concerns like pandemics have disrupted many of our plans, right?

  • And with you, my fellow board members and staff, I have shared laughs, mutual respect and love for this University of, by and for all North Carolina’s people.

My bottom line (“at last!” you rejoice): My life-in-progress was defined by my Carolina journey and enriched ever since by true-blue friends. I ’preciate all blessings I received and continue to receive from UNC. While not a Tar Heel born, I embrace the privilege of being a Tar Heel bred and not yet dead!

Upward and onward to all.