ST. PETERSBURG — Robin Mitchell was fond of outrageous statements. If God had wanted panthers not to become extinct, he once told an environmental writer, "he would have given them opposable thumbs and trigger fingers."
One-liners seemed to flow effortlessly from Mr. Mitchell, who enjoyed a favorite tie-dyed T-shirt and drove a van sporting a license plate that read R-E-5-I-5-T ("resist").
There was plenty of time for business: arrests and trials and politics he covered for the Evening Independent and the St. Petersburg Times.
But when he saw a chance to prank somebody, he took it.
One famous occasion involved pneumatic tubes similar to those used at a bank's drive-through window, which newspaper employees once used to send materials to each other.
"He stuffed a taxidermized duck head into a tube, from the third floor to the fourth-floor librarian," recalled Jon Wilson, then a fellow reporter at the Independent. The duck head's arrival "set off a lot of screaming," Wilson said.
He flouted convention even in the kitchen, where he devised a delicious macaroni and cheese dish containing 11 cheeses.
Mr. Mitchell, a consummate free spirit, died April 29 of chronic liver disease. He was 62.
Despite the antics, Mr. Mitchell had a serious side. He championed local news and scoured other newspapers on car trips. He collected antiques and old books, and enjoyed reading by the pool near his wife, Sharon Bond, and dogs Lola and Gracie.
He was born in Paris, the son of educators. He joined the Independent in 1971 after graduating from the University of South Florida and stayed with the Times after the Independent closed in 1986.
He wrote stories readers found difficult to put down. For example, he began a story about the bandit D.B. Cooper this way: "On the night before Thanksgiving 1971, a man wearing a business suit, loafers and a parachute plunged from a Northwest Orient Airlines 727, vanishing into a black sky, freezing rain and infamy."
He also made an indelible mark as an eagle-eyed copy editor. Once, Wilson said, "One of our writers referred to 'General George Custer.' It slipped right by me. (Mr. Mitchell) sent back a note saying, 'At the time of the massacre in 1876, Custer was a lieutenant colonel.' That was pretty typical."
Mr. Mitchell retired in 2003. He became active in Democratic Party politics, working for Charlie Justice's successful state senatorial campaign in 2006 and as a political consultant. He also served on the board of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.
"He wasn't always the loudest person in the conversation," said Justice, "But when he did speak, people would listen because it wasn't just off the cuff. He had thought about it."
As Mr. Mitchell requested, there will be no funeral service. He was cremated in a favorite tie-dyed T-shirt and navy shorts.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.