John Mitchell · 2000

The following is a tribute fellow colleague Ray Moscowitz wrote about John Mitchell around the time of his death. It was published July 24, 1993 in the Frankfort Times. Mitchell was a long-time executive of Nixon Newspapers.

They are special people.

They have flaws, just like the rest of us, but they possess assets and inner qualities that far outweigh the imperfections.

They have keen minds and common sense.

They are activists who bring intelligence, insight and maturity to everything they become involved in.

They are doers who constantly strive to make things better in their nation.

They are outgoing and easy to be around, because they possess charisma in different ways.

They are comfortable with in all worlds.

John E. Mitchell was one of those special people.

And now he is about to go to another world-the most beautiful world.

They will know him when he arrives.

He will have his right hand up, with the palm facing out. And he will be smiling all the while.

The hand will come down to shake others and he will introduce himself.

He will say, “Hi, I’m John Mitchell,” and the smile will not leave his face.

He will sound like a politician who has been gerrymandered into a new district far above the maddening crowd.

Because through it all the students days at Purdue, the stint serving Uncle Sam, the years on the farm, the sessions of the Indiana General Assembly, and more than two decades of newspapering John Mitchell was a politician and proud of it.

To many, the word politician carries a negative connotation. But, John Mitchell always saw the word as Webster primarily defines it: One versed or experienced in the science of government.

And because he understood that the art of politics is just that-an art-John Mitchell was an incredibly effective man who made life better for everyone fortunate enough to be involved with him whether it be at the Methodist church, or the Department of Natural Resources, or the Statehouse, or Nixon Newspapers or Wesley Manor, or the YMCA, or the Chamber of Commerce, or the Hoosier State Press Association, or Inland Press Association, and on and on.

What he did in 66 years was enough for three or four people combined.

And yet, no matter what he was doing or whom he was serving, Mitch as we endearingly called him never forgot the most important thing in his life:
His family.

Those of us who were fortunate enough to work with him got an ongoing education in what devotion to family is all about.

It was the easiest thing to learn from him. All we had to do was listen to and observe a man who showed by example how to be a husband and a father.

Often while listening and observing, in general, he made us laugh in a way that was as natural as a Hoosier yarn spun by George Ade.

One minute he could make us laugh with a story about a grandchild, the next minute he’d get us going with an anecdote involving Purdue athletics, or Indiana Athletics-or both.

He could make us laugh about something that happened to his devoted wife and partner, Annie.

He could make us laugh about something that happened in a newspaper plant, or to a newspaper guy/gal we all knew.

He could make us laugh something that happened to him on the farm, or happened to someone else on the Back 40.

And he could make us laugh with a political tale, often about one of his favorite pals, the late Gov. Roger Branigin.

John wasn’t a joke-teller; didn’t have to be.

He merely let the words flow with just a touch of Hoosier dialect plain and simple and we laughed. And he laughed with us. What he thought he was once was just an “ag guy,” a fellow who grew up on a farm in tiny Flat Rock in Shelby County, go a degree in agriculture at Purdue about the same time as two close pals Birch Bayh and Wayne Towsend were getting theirs, and who went back to the family homestead to raise crops and tend to a few pigs.

Not surprisingly, the Jaycees named him the Outstanding Young Farmer in Shelbyville County for 1959.

But he began to discover that he was much more than just an ag guy.

What he came to understand was that he could bring people together, he could effect change that would improve the quality of life for his community, his state and his nation.
He put his defeats for congress and secretary of state behind him and marched on into a new career newspapering where his political skills and desire to serve his fellow human beings could be used to the fullest.

When the late Joe Nixon recruited him some 25 years ago, John had no experience in journalism or in the newspaper business.

That didn’t matter to Joe. He knew the real thing when he saw it. And Joe had seen it for some time while he and his brother John worked with Mitch in developing the Salmonie and Mississinewa reservoirs.

The rest, as they say, is history.

John learned the newspaper business, and in just eight years his peers choose him to be President of the Hoosier State Press Association.

Working with Dick Cardwell, the long-time counsel for the association, John played a major role in pushing through Open Door and Public Record acts.

His political skills were crucial in keeping Indiana government in sunshine, not in smoke-filled rooms.

He became an expert at costs and analysis. He promoted professional-growth seminars. And he supported the push to bring more minorities into the business.

His work for the association culminated with his election to the presidency in 1991.
All along, John never forgot Clinton County and Indiana, continuing to serve in diverse ways even through the travails of his illness.

One thread always ran through everything in his life: his families, one named Mitchell, the other named Nixon Newspapers.

The thread was waxed in loyalty, devotion and dedication. He will carry that thread on to the next world.

I thank God that I could always reach out to that thread that thread from a special person in times of trouble and need.


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