Jessica Gay Bell, who along with her late husband, John A. Bell III, founded Jonabell Farm, died March 14 in Naples, Florida, after a brief illness. She was 90.
After graduating from the University of Kentucky with a degree in journalism, Bell worked in the news department at WHAS in Louisville, Ky. After a stint in New York as a showroom model, Bell returned to Lexington where she met John Bell and married him in 1947.
Jonabell was first operated on a leased portion of Hamburg Place in Lexington, where they raised champion Battlefield and Never Say Die, first American-bred to win the English Derby in the 20th century. After relocating Jonabell to property on Bowman's Mill Road, the Bells continued to breed, race, and sell Thoroughbreds while boarding breeding stock for clients.
Damascus, the 1967 Horse of the Year, was raised at Jonabell and the farm stood 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed at stud. Jonabell bred some 50 stakes winners individually and in partnership, among them the homebred champion Epitome, winner of the 1987 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I). Additionally, they Keeneland's Spinster Stakes (gr. I) twice, with homebreds Try Something New and Hail a Cab.
Jonabell was sold to Sheikh Mohammed's Darley in 2001.
Bell was active in many charities and organizations and helped establish the Blue Grass Ball, predecessor of The Lexington Ball, to benefit the Markey Cancer Center at the University of Kentucky. Bell was also involved in the effort to initiate ongoing restoration and training programs with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to preserve and raise awareness of the historical stone walls along rural roads and farmland. The special markers located next to significant rock walls throughout the area are a result of this effort. She was an accomplished gardener and was involved with the Garden Club of Lexington, which maintains the garden at Ashland, Henry's Clay's Estate in Lexington.
Bell was an avid golfer, and her keen interest in people, places, and history spurred travel around the world. She maintained the philosophy that "one should never let schooling interfere with one's education."
Some of the organizations to which Bell belonged included Bluegrass Tomorrow, Lexington Directions, and McConnell Springs, and she was a board member of The Lexington School, Blue Grass Airport, Chrysalis House, and the YWCA. She was also a life trustee of The Lexington School.
Jessica and her husband established the Bell Alcohol and Addictions Endowed Chair at the University of Kentucky.
In addition to her husband of 60 years, Bell was preceded in death by her parents, James Gatewood Gay and Harriet McCreary Gay, and siblings Elva G. Gay, Robert M. Gay, and Elizabeth Gay Lewis.
Bell is survived by four children: Jessica Bell Nicholson (Joe Browne); John A. Bell IV (Nancy); James G. Bell (Wende); Bennett Bell Williams (John); eight grandchildren, James C. Nicholson (Maegan); Kelsey M. Nicholson; James Gatewood Bell, Jr. (Lauren); Tyler Bell Jones (Bret); Shelby Bell Gressett (Drew); John A. Bell V (Beth); Rhodes P. Bell; Laura R. Bell, and five great-grandchildren.
Contributions are suggested to the Bell Endowed Chair at the University of Kentucky, Office of Development, Sturgill Building, 120 Rose Street, Lexington, Ky. 40504, or to the charity of one's choice. Friends may call at the home, 96 Chinoe Road in Lexington March 19 from 3-8 p.m. Graveside services at Lexington Cemetery at 11 a.m. March 20. Kerr Brothers Funeral Home is in charge of the arrangements.