William John Mitchell Named Citizen of Year

Friday, July 6, 2012
Tribune photos by Tribune photo by Karen Hall Willie J. Mitchell is Marshall County's 2012 Outstanding Citizen of the Year.

By Karen Hall

Staff Writer

A man who has given back to the community through all stages of his long life was honored Tuesday at the Chamber of Commerce's Legislative Breakfast with the title of Marshall County's 2012 Outstanding Citizen.

The man is William John Mitchell, 86, affectionately known to many as "Willie J," an established citizen, businessman, and pillar of the community.

Last year, Lewisburg Mayor Barbara Woods proclaimed June 11, 2011, Willie J. Mitchell Day. In 2003, he was the recipient of the George W. Turner Outstanding Citizen Award.

Mitchell was nominated by Arnold and Gloria Quarles, and Vicki Cain read from their letter as she introduced Mitchell to any in the crowd who didn't already know him.

He was born and raised in Cornersville, and has been a lifelong member of St. Matthew's A.M.E. church there. The church stands on land donated by Mitchell's family over 100 years ago. Mitchell attended schools in Lewisburg, where he excelled in baseball and football.

He married Evelyn Wakefield before being recruited by the Army in 1944. While in the Army, Mitchell was a military policeman and a skilled telephone-telegraph lineman.

When he returned after the war, Mitchell's father-in-law, Roy Wakefield, taught him brick masonry. Many churches, schools, and malls across Tennessee and Alabama bear witness to his skill.

Mitchell and his wife raised three fine children: William Robert Mitchell Jr., who played collegiate and professional football; Veronica Mitchell Childress, now deceased, who was a teacher in Marshall County; and, last but not least, Jerri Mitchell Henry. Jerri attended Belmont University, where she received an All-American honor in basketball her freshman year, and is now an assistant basketball coach at Marshall County High School.

Mitchell was a football official for 53 years. He coached and mentored young people in football, Babe Ruth baseball, and men's and women's softball, as well as providing uniforms and equipment for the teams.

He personally obtained football scholarships for over 15 young men from Marshall County, as well as providing hundreds of jobs for young people so they could earn money for their education. Mitchell was a charter member of the Middle Tennessee Athletic Association, the governing body for African-American sports, which preceded the TSSAA.

"Mitchell has always been a champion of athletics and all the positives that come from competition," the Quarles wrote in their nominating letter. In the '50s he led the campaign to raise $10,000 for the purchase of lights for the athletic field at what is now Jones Park.

Mitchell served on the Lewisburg City Council for 12 years. During that time, he was an advocate for building the new Rec Center facility. In those days, "Willie J" could not have imagined he would one day be standing in the new Rec Center's beautiful large meeting room, receiving the community's highest award for a citizen.