Local man gets letter from Obama

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Lewisburg community leader received a reply letter from The White House with President Barack Obama's signature, thanking the former councilman for his "thoughtful words" and encouraging message of hope.

William J. "Willie J." Mitchell of Jones Circle wrote to the President with suggestions on how the country could learn from the Great Depression that Mitchell saw in 1936, he said recently when describing his letter to The White House.

"I was born in 1926," Mitchell said during the 3-on-3 basketball tournament he and his daughter oversee at Jones Park. "And at the age of nine years old, I could see what was going on. I saw the WPA."

President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal included the Works Progress Administration to spend money on an extensive array of programs.

"People had baskets to pick up rocks on the road and throw them in the ditch," Mitchell recalls. "They were paid 25 cents an hour instead of 50 cents a day.

"If you had something like the WPA," Mitchell said, his voice trailing off, indicating that was one of his suggestions to the President. "Give the poor people a job. They are the ones who spend money.

"Everybody was poor," he said of his childhood. "There were no Food Stamps."

Obama's letter states, "Your thoughtful words join a chorus of millions of Americans who are eager to lead our nation toward a brighter future.

"Each day, I am inspired by the encouraging messages of hope and determination I have received from people across the country," the President's letter states. "With the magnitude of challenges we face, we will only overcome them if our imagination is joined by common purpose."

Mitchell is a veteran of World War II.

"I saw people overseas in 1945," he said. One vivid memory was when he "came out of the mess hall tent and saw people (who lived in the area) reaching into the (mess hall) garbage can to get a pork chop bone. That changed my life...

"Life is a blessing," Mitchell said. "I want to look at the future."

The President's letter states, "The future we leave to our children and grandchildren will be determined by our willingness to shoulder each other's burdens, take great risk, and move forward as one people and one nation."

"As far as I know," Mitchell said while discussing his letter, "everybody is somebody. That's the way I ended it and he answered my letter."

Dated Jan. 27, the President's letter concluded, "With your help, we will build on what we have already achieved and lay a new foundation for real and lasting progress."

Mitchell was raised in front of Cornersville High School. His life's work included brick masonry, quiet support for students who needed financial assistance for higher education, and public service on the Lewisburg City Council.