Gloria Bell biography
Gloria Louise Bell was born March 4, 1973, in Greenville, Mississippi, where her father, Paul, served as assistant engineer for the Mississippi Levee Board. Gloria's mother, Lorelei, was a high school English teacher who resumed work when Gloria was old enough.
Friends in Greenville remember Paul and Lorelei as being a loving couple who were nonetheless unafraid to have feisty arguments about local politics and the environmental movement with their more conservative Mississippi friends and neighbors.
Naturally, when she entered school, Gloria was unabashedly loquacious and forthright. Greenville teacher Dale Stregner was in his second year out of college in 1979, and remembers Gloria as his "first real test."
He recalls, "Lord, she was a handful! I mean that in a good way. She had excellent grades, but she was always asking questions — always."
Gloria continued to excel through middle and high school, heading the debate team and winning the state championship in 1989, and volunteering for the local nature club. She was gregarious and unafraid of being overtly intellectual. Many school chums remember her as a role model, but other former classmates recall Gloria as "stuck-up" and "superior."
With her excellent grades, Gloria could have gotten scholarships to many colleges in the Northeast. But retired Greenville High college counselor Marty Quaiyne said Gloria was certain she wanted to stay in Mississippi and work in local politics, so she enrolled in Mississippi State University, studying political science. She excelled in classes and was nominated to Phi Beta Kappa and graduated summa cum laude.
Even as she excelled academically, Gloria had a harder time with social life at college. As she told her classmates, by the end of her freshman year she was questioning herself and her attitudes.
In the spring of 1996 Gloria moved to Jackson, where she took a fund-raising job with the state Democratic committee. She excelled in the workplace but struggled to find new friends after hours. Two years later, Gloria again spoke of moving on. By July, Gloria was living in Oxford with plans to enroll in law school that fall.
Gloria's law professors remember that she immediately assumed a leadership role among the students, and that she was sought-after as a study companion. Robert Pruitt was one of Gloria's admirers, and their former classmates recall he lobbied her persistently for a date.
"Robert thought Gloria was terrific," said Marc Sheff, now an attorney in Hattiesburg and a mutual friend. They began dating, were engaged by their final year, and married in 2003.
After a honeymoon in Jamaica, Gloria and Robert settled in Oxford, where both had secured posts in the district attorney's office. Gloria told friends she was excited to be a public servant and wanted to work on prosecuting white-collar and corporate crime. Her dream was to become a judge on the State Supreme Court.
But the work was primarily criminal cases, and Gloria reportedly chafed at the unending stream of assault and drunk-driving prosecutions she was expected to undertake. Colleagues also report Gloria and Robert were seen frequently arguing in the hallways.
Gloria told friends Robert was "pathetically unambitious" and that he also complained about the low pay. As the reality of work and making ends meet began to sink in, matters got worse. Gloria told her mother that Robert wanted to work in the private sector, a move Gloria regarded as betrayal.
Then, the unthinkable happened: Gloria discovered she was pregnant. A close friend, who wished to remain anonymous, reported that Gloria had a miscarriage in the second month, with complications that left her unable to bear children in the future.
Gloria reportedly told Robert about the pregnancy only after the miscarriage, at which point friends recall he went berserk.
Marc Sheff says, "Robert yelled at her while she was still in the hospital, saying she shouldn't have been working so hard. But they hadn't been trying — they were both busy with their careers. I don't know what was going on, but it wasn't good. He basically told her to get over it. I lost a lot of sympathy for Robert at that point."
Gloria filed for divorce, suing Robert for cruel and unusual treatment and accusing him in court testimony of ruining her chances for motherhood. After months of bitterly trading accusations, the two attorneys finalized the paperwork in August of 2004, and Robert moved into private practice shortly thereafter.
But the divorce wasn't the end of Gloria's bitterness toward Robert. Mary Callahan, a public defender and Gloria's close friend, noted that Gloria became "almost obsessed" with Robert after they separated, and was enraged when he began working as a high-priced defense attorney, taking on morally questionable cases and living an ostentatious lifestyle.
"It was everything Gloria despised," Callahan says. "She felt totally betrayed."
To divert her mind from the tragedy of her failed marriage, Gloria buried herself in work, where colleagues say she's brought a new level of rigor and dedication to the job. When the Senior Assistant District Attorney was elected to a local judgeship in 2010, there was no question Gloria would be named to the post. She's served there ever since.
Gloria's social life continues to be lonely. Mary Callahan says Gloria has never really had a serious relationship since breaking up with Robert Pruitt, and has lately "become more of a curmudgeon." In 2014, Gloria began quietly dating Gary Rayburn, Robert Pruitt's law partner, telling no one but Callahan.
"It's definitely out of spite," Callahan says, "but there might be something real to it,. Gary's a nice guy, volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, and Gloria wants to help him get his due. She told me, 'We've both been screwed by Rob Pruitt. We've got plenty in common.' I'm not sure it's healthy, but he seems to treat her OK."
Callahan suspects Gloria may be in therapy for depression, but if so, Gloria has never mentioned it. Lorelei Bell reports her daughter has been "down in the dumps" of late and has been somewhat estranged from life in Greenville in recent years.
"I keep telling her not to give up. She's a vivacious, intellectual woman, and she can have a vibrant life," Lorelei says, "but she seems a little lost."