Sunday, January 21, 2018
News Roundup

Pasco rancher W.H. 'Jack' Mitchell Jr. dies at 88

NEW PORT RICHEY — You can't go far in this town without seeing the family name somewhere.

Between J.W. Mitchell High School, Mitchell Boulevard, Mitchell Crossings Shopping Center and W.H. Jack Mitchell Jr. Park, the citizens of New Port Richey have expressed gratitude many times over to rancher W.H. "Jack" Mitchell and his heirs.

Now another link to Pasco County's past has dissolved.

Jack Mitchell Jr., son of W.H. Mitchell and a dyed-in-the-wool rancher, died Monday, of pneumonia. He was 88 and had lived in Ocala since the late 1980s.

His father's 13,000 acres encompassed what is now Countryside Mall, St. Pete Beach and dozens of subdivisions in the Trinity area, plus 5,000 acres in Kissimmee. But long before the land, Mr. Mitchell inherited a workload he would maintain for good.

"He didn't know how to have fun, per se," said Linda Chapman, 61, his daughter. "It was all about work."

Mr. Mitchell and older brother Jim did stage Friday-night family rodeos, and taught skeet shooting to their children. The brothers also pursued a passion for showing quarter horses, once claiming the four top spots in a statewide event.

The family story starts with W.H. Mitchell, a power-shovel operator who left Roanoke, Va., for Florida. William Harry "Jack" Mitchell Jr. was born in St. Petersburg in 1925.

His ran track and played football at St. Petersburg High, scoring the only two touchdowns in the school's first-ever win over Miami Edison High in the Orange Bowl.

He attended the University of Georgia but returned his freshman year to help with his father's cattle ranch. He married Juanita King and they had two children.

Mr. Mitchell would marry and divorce six women.

"He was good looking, he had a lot of money and he was very generous with it with the ladies," said Jack Ross, 87, a retired St. Petersburg dentist and a friend of 70 years. "He didn't hold back in that regard."

At the same time, his family said, Mr. Mitchell was a strict father who didn't swear or tolerate a lot of television apart from Western shows like Bonanza or Gunsmoke.

Dewey Mitchell, his nephew, remembers Mr. Mitchell as a "fun guy with a self-deprecating sense of humor."

W.H. Mitchell died in 1968, with most of his property divided between his sons. Jack Mitchell Jr. sold much of his to Dr. James Gills, an eye surgeon. The result is a large chunk of Trinity today. The county's W.H. Jack Mitchell Jr. Park, 52 acres off Little Road, is named after him.

Mr. Mitchell moved to Ocala, where he started another cattle ranch. He continued to compete in Western equestrian events into his 70s. To the end of his life in a nursing home, he recalled every horse he had ridden in competition and the awards won, his daughter said.

Dewey Mitchell and his sister, Mary Mitchell Avery, run what remains of the Mitchell ranch, about 1,100 acres in western Pasco and another 1,400 in north central Pasco. Jim Mitchell, Dewey's father and the namesake of Mitchell High, died in 2010.

"Uncle Jack is the last of that generation to pass on," he said.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

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