TRINITY — Jim Mitchell inspired comparisons to Ben Cartwright, tall and rugged in the saddle, strong and straightforward — a cowboy whose word meant something.
But unlike the TV western hero, Jim Mitchell was real. He punched cattle with his men for years, long before western Pasco County had paved roads and shopping centers. He drove herds up what is now U.S. 19.
His wife, Dorothy, loved to travel. But Jim was happy just to be on the range, branding his herd, kicking dirt in a fire.
"He never wanted to leave Pasco,'' said his son, Dewey Mitchell, a well-known Realtor and former Olympian and Alabama football star. "This was his home. He loved cattle, he loved this lifestyle.''
Jim Mitchell, whose name graces a high school, a highway and a hospital rehab center that benefitted from the family's philanthropy, died on Thursday (Dec. 16, 2010) after a lengthy illness. He was 89.
He and Dorothy were together for 63 years of marriage and entered hospice care together a little more than a month ago. Dorothy, who had served 20 years on the Pasco County School Board and was well known for her charitable work, died Oct. 31. Though frail, Jim managed to attend her burial service at Trinity Memorial Gardens.
"His body was worn out,'' his son said on Friday, "and he just wanted to be with mother.''
Mr. Mitchell was born on July 24, 1921 in Smithfield, Ohio, where his father operated a steam shovel. The family moved to St. Petersburg in 1925 and started accumulating ranchland in southwestern Pasco County. The Mitchell ranch started in 1942 and covered thousands of acres.
As a youth, Mr. Mitchell attended Florida Military Academy in Gulfport, now the site of Stetson Law School. He spent three years at the Citadel in Charleston, S.C., and entered the Army at the end of World War II. After his discharge, he returned to the ranch and never left for long.
Contact Bill Stevens at [email protected], or at (727) 869-6250.