America’s tallest man
If Norfolk, Va., Deputy George Bell had a dollar for every time someone asked him about the weather up there, he’d be a rich man. He stands 7 feet, 8 inches tall. He says his height doesn’t intimidate jail inmates – it helps him develop a rapport.
“They’ve never seen anyone this tall before, so they’re amazed,” Bell said. “They want to talk.”
Norfolk Sheriff Bob McCabe who stands about 5’ 7” remembers he had to stand on a chair to pin the badge on Bell when he graduated from the Training Academy in 2000.
“I still had a hard time,” laughs McCabe.
Sheriff McCabe and his staff at the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office knew Bell was pretty phenomenal, but respected his wishes to be treated like everyone else. The gentle giant didn’t want to make a big deal about his height. He just wanted to do his job.
Well now, it’s a big deal. In August, Bell’s ex-wife submitted his name online to the Guinness World Records search for America’s tallest man. After all the required measurements were verified, Bell won.
“I didn’t need Guinness to know that I was tall,” Bell remarked with his traditional laid back demeanor. “People tell me that every day, but to be recognized in the book is an honor.”
At 7’ 8” Bell is 2 inches taller than Yao Ming, the tallest player in the NBA, but he’s not the world’s tallest living man. He comes third, according to Guinness, behind the Ukraine’s 8′ 5″ Leonid Stadnyk and China’s Bao Xi Shun, who is 7′ 9″. Bell will be recorded – along with the tallest men in several other countries – in the next edition of Guinness World Records.
50-year-old Bell, whose parents stood 5’ 6” and 5’ 7,” first showed signs of remarkable height when he was 9 or 10 years old.
“I knew I was tall as a kid when I was taller than my 5-foot-1 grandmother – and I was only 9 years old,” he said.
As a teenager, he was diagnosed with a medical condition called gigantism, which causes the excessive secretion of growth hormones. By the time he hit his early 20s, he was over 7 feet tall.
Bell wears size-19 shoes, pants with a 43-inch inseam and shirts with 45-inch sleeves. He did play some basketball, in high school, college and even a stint with the Harlem Wizards and Harlem Globetrotters.
At 30, he decided law enforcement was the career for him. Bell, who currently works in the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office Community Affairs division, says he likes making a difference as a deputy. He especially enjoys mentoring young people. One of his mentees includes 15-year-old Marcus Wheeler from Hampton who is seven feet tall.
“I can relate to what he’s going through,” says Bell. “I know what it’s like to be different. It’s not easy, especially when you’re a teenager.”
Bell has offered Wheeler advice on everything from where to buy oversized clothes to how to thrive in a “short” man’s world. Bell credits his late great-aunt, Etonia Johnson, with his positive attitude: “She always told me, ‘Don’t feel ashamed of yourself. Stand tall. God made you. Be happy and show your pride.’ “
Sheriff McCabe threw a welcome home reception for Bell when he returned from receiving the Guinness honors in New York. Since then, he’s received media inquiries from all over the world, including Good Morning America, The Tonight Show and RTL, the biggest commercial television station in Germany.
“I’ve always looked up to George for obvious reasons,” jokes the Sheriff, “both personally and professionally. He has always been a devoted member of our Norfolk Sheriff’s Office family and we are very proud of him.”
By Bonita Billingsley Harris, Public Information Officer, Norfolk Sheriff’s Office
Photo by Norfolk, Va., Cpl. Laurie Wood