Former U.S. Secretary of Education T.H. Bell, a long-time advocate of national school reform, died in his sleep at his Salt Lake home about 5 a.m. Saturday. He was 74.

Bell's wife, Betty Ruth Bell, said her husband had been suffering for quite some time from pulmonary fibrosis. She said he died of an apparent heart attack."He was proud of his wonderful career in education," Mrs. Bell said. "Serving the youth of our country was a great ideal for him. He believed that anybody who got a good education could accomplish whatever he wanted."

Bell took office as President Ronald Reagon's education secretary in 1981 with orders to dismantle the agency he headed. Instead, he focused the nation's attention on education through the publication of "A Nation at Risk," a scathing report on the decline of the education system in America since the 1950s. It was Bell's most notable achievement as education secretary.

The report is credited with having made education a primary issue for the Reagan administration and the nation. After leaving his post as education chief in 1985, he co-authored "How to Shape Up Our Nation's Schools."

Terrel Howard Bell was born Nov. 11, 1921, in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, the seventh of nine children. His father died in a mining accident when the younger Bell was 7, and his mother supported the family by taking in laundry while her children worked odd jobs.

He attended Albion State Normal School, a teacher's college, beginning in 1940, and served in the Marines during World War II. He later worked as a high school science teacher and athletic coach.

Bell began his career in education policy at age 25 as superintendent of schools in Rockland, Idaho. Later, he held the same position in Afton, Wyo., and Ogden. From 1963 to 1970 he served as Utah's state schools chief, and then moved on to Washington, D.C., to work in education under presidents Nixon and Ford as deputy commissioner and then commissioner of education in the former Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

After leaving the Reagan administration, he established a nonprofit consultant group with school districts in 16 cities. The motivational program focused on middle schools and established athletics-like competition to promote academic excellence. He later established Terrel Bell and Associates with Donna L. Elmquist and Elam Hertzler, who was Bell's chief of staff when he was education secretary.

Mrs. Bell said her husband's close friendship with former defense secretary Caspar Weinberger led to a personal relationship with Reagan, whom she said her husband thought of as a "fine human being . . . a wonderful person with a great personality."

Regarding his appointment as education secretary, she said, "We think Caspar Weinberger put in a good word for him," Mrs. Bell said. "He (T.H. Bell) didn't travel much in political circles."

Mrs. Bell said her husband was an avid outdoorsman who loved to ski on both water and snow, especially with his four sons. He was an active member of the LDS Church and served as president of the University Second Stake for single men.

"He was quite involved in that," she said. "He did enjoy young people - they were sort of a light in his life."

Mrs. Bell said her husband's funeral services have been tentatively scheduled for noon Wednesday at the Ensign Peak Ward at 125 E. North Sandrun Road.