- story by Ellis Anderson
Sometimes the path of a life can be traced back to a few words spoken in jest. Certainly when Coach Spence teased one of the kids on his 6th grade Pearlington basketball team, he had no idea he was launching a lifelong career path.
“Brehm Bell,” said the coach. “You argue about everything. I’m thinking you’d make an excellent lawyer.”
Nearly four decades later, the respected attorney — and former judge — laughs about the life-changing moment.
“Being a lawyer sounded cool to me,” says Brehm. “From then on, I always just knew.”
Brehm Bell’s current office address is 544 Main Street, Bay St. Louis. And last year, his family moved into a historic house a few blocks away — also on Main Street.
Setting a course and staying true to it may be an inherited trait: four generations of Bells have captained or served as engineers of tugboats. Brehm’s great-grandfather was also a Pearlington bridge-tender and donated land for a park to Louisiana Governor Huey P. Long (the park is still there, on Hwy. 90, at the turn-off to Fremeaux in Slidell). Brehm carried on the tugboat tradition by working as a deckhand during summers and holidays while he was in high school and college.
He attended his sophomore through his senior year of high school at Bay High, graduated in 1980, then went on to attend the University of Southern Mississippi. After graduating with a double major in English and Political Science, he was accepted to law school at Ole Miss.
By then, he’d already set his cap for Jenny Lindsay, an upbeat designer from Slidell whom he’d met at Southern. The couple’s first date convinced them they’d be a disastrous match and would be better off as friends. Yet, the friendship eventually blossomed into romance — a lasting one. They married 28 years ago, just a year before Brehm graduated law school. He says that marrying Jenny was the best move he ever made in life, and that anyone who knows Jenny would agree with him.
Brehm’s first job as a lawyer took the newlyweds to Meridian, where they lived for four years, starting their family. But the bay kept calling, so in 1994 the Bells moved back to the coast and Brehm opened his own practice.
While he’s worked in family law and served as a local youth court judge, Brehm’s primary focus has always been personal injury law — in fact, it’s been his sole practice for the past decade.
“When someone’s been in an accident, the system is incredibly frustrating and unduly complicated,” says Brehm, “and a lot of people are treated like they don’t have any common sense. Our job is to clarify, and then handle the immense amount of paperwork, while keeping our clients updated.
“I get paid for helping people, and we only get paid if we help them recover anything. It feels good to be following the ethics of my parents, who were well known in the community for helping others.”
“I just keep striving to do what’s right, and clients continue to come my way. We treat people with respect, return phone calls and give a lot of personal service. The way we conduct business has been the most valuable advertising of all.”
Yet his legal practice is only one of Brehm’s jobs. As a volunteer, he’s worked for years through various community channels to better public education. The investment in time is motivated by both civic and personal reasons: All four of the Bells children attend local public schools.
Brehm’s worn many hats through the years in his quest for bettering the area’s educational opportunities. He worked with the local chapter of the Kiwanis for more than a dozen years focusing on education. Serving as chair of the Hancock Chamber’s Education Committee, he helped found the annual Teachers’ Appreciation Dinner, an event where local educators are honored and even gifted with various types of community support.
He served on the board of the Bay Tigers Athletic Foundation, which works to support athletics, dance team and band activities for his alma mater. Brehm and Sherry Ponder campaigned tirelessly to persuade Pearl River Community College to open a branch in Hancock County – an effort that was happily successful. But the Bookworms program, which enlists adults to read for classrooms on occasion, remains one of his favorites.
“As a Mormon, I don’t even drink tea,” says Brehm. “But I feel an enormous natural high after I go to the elementary school and read for those classes.”
Brehm is a bedrock member of his church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Since Jenny’s a Methodist, the practical-minded pair agreed before marriage that they’d attend each other’s church once a month. Brehm says that the family focuses on the similar beliefs they share, rather than the differences. The system has worked well for the Bells, whose social circles overlap, as well as their beliefs.
His faith in the city of Bay St. Louis hasn’t wavered either since his childhood. It’s only grown stronger as he’s watched the city recover from one of the worst natural disasters in the country’s history. He sees the tolerance of the community as one of its greatest assets.
“In other places, your status or class can mean a lot,” he says. “In Bay St. Louis, not so much. People here don’t care if you’re the mayor or a ditch-digger, they’ll enjoy your company fishing or sharing a burger with you.”
“I love the vibe downtown right now — the art, the music and the food. We invite our friends here from around the country to see what a great little city we are.”
Brehm believes that the city’s strong historical and cultural ties to New Orleans lend Bay St. Louis a special ambiance. Since New Orleans is consistently listed as a top city destination worldwide, the Bay basks in the edge of that spotlight, but makes the most of the low-stress, family-oriented lifestyle.
According to Brehm, another advantage to small town life is the ability of a single individual to bring about positive change. One can work behind the scenes without holding office or being in a position of power and still make good things happen. It’s a principle he apparently applies on a daily basis.
Brehm shared one idea he’s been quietly working toward for over a decade: the eventual creation of a foundation for the Bay-Waveland School District. One of its missions would be to fund stipends to help recruit and reward top-quality teachers.
Brehm’s enthusiasm fires up as he discusses the concept at length. This is one more dream that will eventually be manifested. One can almost see his tugboat ancestry at the wheel of this particular ship, plotting the course and slowly, but steadily, making way.