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Johnston City mayor Jim Mitchell remembered for his spirit, tenacity

  • Jim Mitchell

    Jim Mitchell

  • Johnston City Mayor Jim Mitchell, right, with his wife Jeannie, and son Grant and bride Abbie, at the pair's wedding on Dec. 1.

    Johnston City Mayor Jim Mitchell, right, with his wife Jeannie, and son Grant and bride Abbie, at the pair's wedding on Dec. 1.
    Courtesy of Grant Mitchell

 
BY HOLLY KEE
hkee@localsouthernnews.com
updated: 1/4/2019 11:06 AM

JOHNSTON CITY -- Johnston City rang in 2019 by saying goodbye to the man who has been at the helm of city government for the past eight years.

Mayor Jim Mitchell passed away on Tuesday afternoon after an eight-year battle with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, in the Intensive Care Unit at Marion's Heartland Regional Medical Center, with his family by his side.

Mitchell's son, Grant, announced his father's passing on Facebook with a simple message. "Dad's fight is over," he wrote.

Mitchell's last days were spent much like he spent his life, worrying about others and taking care of his mayoral duties, according to Grant.

"His spirit and tenacity was mind-blowing," Grant said. "He was always helping everyone he could help by any means possible."

Grant said his dad "loved this town (Johnston City) more than anyone I've ever known. He wanted to make it a better place."

That was echoed by Police Chief Will Stark.

"Jim cared more for Johnston City than anybody I've ever met," he said. "He checked on us all the time."

Stark said that Mitchell took time to tell city employees that he was proud of their work.

"He never let a day go by that he didn't tell us he was proud," he said. "If you did something wrong, he'd tell you about that, too."

Stark said Mitchell made sure city employees were not just workers, but family.

"I think one of the things that kept him going was worrying about the city, who would take his place, what they will do, what will change," he said. "I think he hung on for the city."

Rep. Dave Severin worked closely with Mitchell on several projects.

"He sure loved Johnston City," Severin said. "He always contacted me when something was going on so I could sit in and be a part of it."

One of those projects was Mitchell's insistence on repairing the city's Scout Cabin.

"Everyone thought he was crazy," said Severin, "but that place is awesome. It's a piece of history that he preserved. If it hadn't been for his tenacity, that place would be gone."

Mitchell was a Vietnam veteran, serving in the U.S. Army.

"He was on funeral duty," said Grant, explaining that his dad was tasked with notifying families of those who were killed in action.

"He said it was the hardest time of his life."

Mitchell spent most of his life involved in community activities and organizations including the Lions Club, Jaycees, Moose, Elks, and American Legion. He is perhaps best known for his involvement in the Boy Scouts.

"He was an Eagle Scout and was awarded the Silver Beaver as an adult," said Grant.

The local troop placed flags throughout the city on Tuesday afternoon after learning of Mitchell's passing.

Mitchell was serving as an alderman in 2011 when he was appointed to finish the term of former Mayor Ryan Horn who moved out of state. At nearly the same time, he was diagnosed with IPF.

"He lasted way longer than any of the doctors thought he would," said Grant, who said his father was the "star patient" at the Marion Veterans Administration Medical Center, where he volunteered for experimental medical programs and testing for FDA drugs.

"He was their guinea pig," said Grant. "He held it (the disease) at bay for much longer than they thought possible."

However, Grant pointed out that his dad managed to hang on for two events he felt were important -- his son's wedding on Dec. 1 and Christmas.

"It was a perfectly wonderful day, the best day he had for a long time," said Grant of his wedding day. "He stayed late and he and mom got to dance. For a while we didn't even know if he would be there."

Grant said his dad had many plans he was hoping to implement for the city.

"He wanted to make it a better place."

When Mitchell took the helm, Grant said the city was on the verge on being taken over by the state because the finances were in such bad shape.

"He got this town back on track," said Alderman Al Peebels.

"He's probably the best thing that happened to Johnston City in years. He's going to be seriously missed."