Peter H. Bell, a longtime executive at Autism Speaks and a highly visible advocate for autism research and services, will take the helm of the Forrestal Village-based Eden Autism Services effective February 1. Bell is a former Johnson & Johnson executive who left the corporate world and took up work in the autism field 2004 in response to his son’s autism diagnosis.
Bell will replace current president and CEO Thomas P. McCool, who is retiring from the post he has held for eight years.
“Our national search set out to find a visionary leader committed to quality and sustainability as we continually respond to the ever-evolving needs of this family-member organization and the broader autism community we serve,” said Marie Gary, chair of the Eden Board of Trustees.
As executive vice president for programs and services of Autism Speaks, the world’s largest autism science and advocacy organization, Bell founded and directed all activities of the government relations and family services departments for six-and-a-half years and played a pivotal role in establishing the Autism Treatment Network.
According to the press release announcing the appointment, Bell’s accomplishments include working behind the scenes to promote the passage of federal legislation totaling $1.8 billion in funding for autism research and services, the enactment of autism insurance laws in more than 30 states, outreach to military families, production of resources and tool kits for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families, and a $2.5 million community grant program. Bell also co-founded Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism and worked in the areas of employment, housing, and residential support for adults with autism.
Bell replaces McCool, who expanded school and adult services enrollment, strengthened the organization’s operations and earned income opportunities, and led the effort to fund and build a model education and outreach center during his tenure at Eden. During McCool’s tenure Eden expanded from its location on Route 1 to a new facility in Forrestal Village (U.S. 1, December 14, 2011). McCool announced last spring that he hoped to retire no later than June of 2014.
From 2004 to 2007, Bell served as president and CEO of Cure Autism Now (CAN), where he worked to support passage of the federal Combating Autism Act of 2006 and to establish the Autism Treatment Network. Bell later helped CAN merge with Autism Speaks, which is headquartered in Manhattan and also has an office at 1060 State Road in Princeton.
Bell has also represented the autism community by fulfilling a White House appointment as a citizen member to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, chairing the Consumer Advisory Committee of the International Society for Autism Research and serving as chair of the Autism Research Program for the Department of Defense.
Bell, 49, was raised in a Chicago suburb, where his father was an investment banker and his mother a real estate agent. He studied at Cornell, where he met his wife, Elizabeth, and then earned an MBA at Northwestern. He moved to Pennington as a product director for Johnson & Johnson’s consumer product division.
In 1993 the Bells’ son, Tyler, was born. Eventually he was diagnosed with a disorder on the autistic spectrum. Bell left Johnson & Johnson in 2004 to become the president of Cure Autism Now and later the executive vice president at Autism Speaks.
In March, 2012, Bell testified at a House appropriations subcommittee:
“I am the proud father of a child with autism . . . In 1996 when my wife and I first heard the words ‘your son has autism,’ we were stunned. Our only reference to autism at the time was from the Oscar-winning movie ‘Rainman.’ We had never known anyone with autism, nor did we know any families who had a child with autism. I suspect this would have been true for most of you on this committee. However, today, I’m willing to wager that every one of you personally knows someone or some family who is touched by autism. Each year, nearly 50,000 families hear those same words — ‘your child has autism.’”