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LocalTies

A Life Well Spent - Remembering Medina Mayor Bob Mitchell

Oct 02, 2018 02:25PM ● By Chris Pederson

Robert G. Mitchell, Jr., "Bob" was an ambitious family man, trained in real estate law and known for his quick wit and civic minded nature. A nature illustrated by a history serving in positions ranging from the Board of Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, Global Minnesota and the Trust for Public Land to serving on the Wayzata City Council from 1978-1980 as well as City Attorney for Minnetonka Beach for over 20 years. His most recent post was as Mayor of the City Medina.

Yes, his professional accomplishments were notable and many can be found by Googling a recent Star Tribune article on him. Yet, what you won't find there is his taste for unique, primary-colored chairs and contemporary furnishings which filled his Lindquist and Vennum office in Wayzata. This was something Michelle Stark, his former legal secretary recalled to me recently. She worked with Bob for 15 years until 1990. That office where my mother, Cheryl Pederson also worked as a legal secretary to his colleague and former Mayor of Plymouth, David Davenport, is now a Starbucks.   Cheryl reports that working with Bob was always challenging as he pushed one to exceed their perceived limits and in this sense he was a great teacher. She respected his intelligence, enjoyed his personality and great sense of humor, and is proud and honored to have known him.

Of course many things have changed since then and if Bob were here today, he could easily give anyone with an inquiring mind a vivid and historically accurate accounting of it all. His love of history and ability to describe past events in great detail was one his many talents. Those who knew Bob would attest to this as his brother-in-law, David Crosby and others took care to point out. David was one of six children and grew up with Bob. David's brother Tom Crosby Jr. was also a former Mayor of Medina, while their sister, Lucy, would marry Bob over 40 years ago. Those who married into David's family described themselves as "the outlaws" who included David's wife Kitty, Bob Mitchell, Ellie (Tom Crosby's widow), Fred Winston, Bill Dolan and Teri Crosby.

David was four years Bob's elder and spoke of the days when Bob would race motorcycles as a young man or navigate a boat described as a “small boat with too much engine on it.”

David was four years Bob's elder and spoke of the days when Bob would race motorcycles as a young man or navigate a boat described as a “small boat with too much engine on it.”  A notable metaphor for a man whose intellect and taste for adventure far exceeded his physical stature.

David Crosby  - Brother-in-Law

Bob was very close to my wife Kitty. They both rode together at Bill Nunn’s stable. When my Kitty had cancer, Bob would appear out of nowhere on horseback just to make her feel good. He had that tendency about him - to just appear - whether on horseback or in his Corvette.  He was a very kind and caring man and people liked him a lot. He had a truly incredible mind and an affinity for history. I recall him describing things in minute detail.

He had that tendency about him - to just appear - whether on horseback or in his corvette.

Lucy Mitchell- Wife

When asked what attracted Lucy to her husband Bob, her immediate response was, "he was just a lot of fun to be around".

Bob was always enthusiastic to do things, he was much more of a risk taker. When he did things, he did them well. He delved deeply into whatever he did, that was just his personality - he liked to do things really precisely. Because he was so game for anything, he was really fun to be with.

In 2010 we went with a group of friends and we added on Jordan because we’d been to Israel and Egypt in 1982. Bob said “why don’t we go to Damascus?” so I talked with the travel agent and found a great place online. We spent two days in Damascus right before the Arab spring, it was just amazing. It was one of the highlights of our travels to see one of the oldest inhabited cities, and seeing it really authentically, with not a lot of tourists. In fact, we were mistaken for Europeans because they didn’t expect Americans to be traveling there. It was very sad to think about because we stayed in the Christian section of the city; they were looking forward to welcoming more western tourists, and then everything fell apart.

Bobby knew so much about history and places to go that he would add some sort of element to our trips that made them particularly interesting.

One of my biggest regrets was he’d always wanted to go to Scotland - one of his favorite movies was “Braveheart” and he had some Scottish in him.  For the last 10 years Bob had taken French lessons and so we’d talked about spending a little more time in France, we’ve been to France but thought we’d spend a little more time there so he could practice the language.

Ned Mitchell - Son

Bob's son, Ned, was kind enough to share a piece of his eulogy.  

His family was where he truly excelled. The thing that happens when you get out the door each day is that you show up. In family there is nothing more important than showing up. And Dad showed up everywhere. Undoubtedly, you all probably met him sometime when he showed up! He showed up and cheered unabashedly when you were on the A team or the C team, the 1st line or the 4th. He showed up even when you weren’t playing… and hadn’t for 15 years. On family vacations, showing up to Bob Mitchell meant skiing 9am to close, climbing The Grand Teton at 59, and swan diving to perfection on a bungee cord at Victoria Falls above 360 feet of air. He was that rare man who remembered how to be a kid as an adult.

Being a Kid at Heart

Being a kid as an adult seemed a common thread from those who knew Bob well. Bob's old friend. Loren Kohnen, recalled Bob stopping by City Hall soon after he got his ‘57 Corvette and telling Loren to jump in for a ride where Bob then took him flying down County Road 24 and squealing into Holy Name’s parking lot. Another story suggested Bob was leaving a meeting in that same Corvette and was told "you got no guts if you don't light those tires up." Apparently, Bob gave a smirk and then proceeded to burn out of that lot like he hadn't a care in the world. However, these and other similar tales - often teetering on the verge of folk hero status - are probably best left to those lucky enough to hear them in-person - beyond the fickle confines of print - yet fondly remembered by those who experienced them first hand.

It is clear that Bob impacted many people across the span of his life but it was in retirement it seemed he found his greatest contentment and, as his wife Lucy described, the necessary time required to properly devote to being the Mayor of the City he lived in and loved.  

The following are memories by some Medina City staff and officials who worked with him such as Dusty Finke, the Medina City Planner, who recalled always appreciating Bob's handwritten notes.

Ed Belland - Medina's Police Chief and Director of Public Safety

Mayor Mitchell kept up to date on what was going on in the City, the State, the Nation and the World.  He would stop by my office about every other week to upload information to me.  He would be looking at pension information, what was going on with other police and fire departments in the area and across the state. He would voice his opinion on police shootings and made sure we were looking at all sides of the debate.  He challenged me to make sure I was looking for answers to the hard questions.    He was truly interested in the public safety field.  The conversations were short, but relevant to our business. He was always kind and friendly and would leave my office saying, “I don’t know if you will need this information, but it is good to know it anyways.”   I truly enjoyed working with Mayor Mitchell.  He will be missed.

Jodi Gallup - Medina Assistant City Administrator/City Clerk

As I reflect on my time working with Bob, he took his role as Mayor over these last four years very seriously. He was thorough in gathering information before making tough city budget and land-use decisions. He was more than willing to represent the City of Medina at ribbon cuttings, award ceremonies, park openings, and community events. Bob was even eager and readily available to complete the most mundane mayoral tasks of signing approved contracts, minutes, and resolutions. A recent memory I have of Bob was when a local boy scout troop asked to meet with him to learn more about being the mayor and city government. I had also asked him to come in and sign six months of past meeting minutes on that same day. He happily met with the boy scouts and before they left, he had them watch him sign every signature page of that minute book to make sure they knew ALL the responsibilities of being Mayor.

Scott Johnson - Medina City Administrator

Medina will greatly miss Mayor Mitchell’s experience and leadership.  Mayor Mitchell brought curiosity, thoughtful analysis, and set a high bar for respectful and civil city council discussions.  I will miss his sharp sense of humor, his intelligence, and his passion for the City of Medina.

He was great with kids.  I experienced this whenever my son would visit his house.  He always had time to talk and joke with kids. My son, Jakob, always seemed to get extra cookies or bars for dessert when Bob was around.

I will miss his sharp sense of humor, his intelligence, and his passion for the City of Medina.

Jeff Pederson – Medina City Council Member

When Bob would get in a tough spot in a council meeting, you’d see a sly grin creep across his face right before he’d throw out a one-liner. Sometimes that one liner was funny and sometimes the timing wasn’t quite perfect but always brought a smile to your face; though many of us in the room would have to hold back our own smile to maintain a sense of decorum. Nonetheless, the comments would always cut the tension in the room relieving an otherwise stressful situation. I also appreciated his consistent and genuine concern about the taxpayers’ best interests.

Lorie Cousineau - Medina City Council Member

I don't have merely one memory of our Mayor; I have several. What I appreciated most, though, was that many council meetings either began or ended with an anecdote from the day’s or week’s news or current events.  He had this uncanny ability to connect us to that which was happening around us, gently reminding us of our good fortune to be an American and to honor that with respectful dialogue. He often applauded the staff and our residents for their commitment to the city. In my mind, his legacy will be ensuring that we leave Medina better than we found it through intellectual and gracious discourse, wrapped in humor. He will be missed... he was one of the great ones.

Honoring Bob

Beyond the lens of those who worked with him directly at the City, Shorty Dorweiler, the owner of Farmers State Bank of Hamel could attest to Bob's character as mayor saying, "Bob was fair, balanced and very analytical. That’s about all you can ask for. I’m gonna miss him and his leadership."

Hearing these stories from some family members and those who worked with him most recently is only a fraction of a testament to what a special human being Bob Mitchell was. I personally recall getting a phone call from Bob only a few months after we had begun the publication of LocalTies. He said, "Hi Chris, it's Bob Mitchell. I just read through the most recent issue of your magazine and wanted to congratulate you guys on it. The quality looks better than ever and I really appreciate what you guys are doing. Keep up the good work."

It was a short call, but just the kind of inspiration we needed and from a person whose thoughtful support anyone would've welcomed....and clearly many were fortunate enough to receive over the course of this great man's life.  A life we, as a City, can forever honor by committing to maintain a level of dignified communication throughout the many trials and tribulations Medina will surely experience as it continues to grow and evolve.

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