‘Guiding light’ fades

Published 10:37 am Tuesday, August 15, 2017

AHOSKIE – He spoke softly, but when Dr. Harold Elbert Mitchell of Ahoskie shared his vast knowledge and words of wisdom there was typically a multitude of individuals hanging on each and every syllable.

On Thursday of last week, the Roanoke-Chowan area lost that strong voice of reason as Dr. Mitchell died at Duke University Hospital in Durham. He was 78.

Funeral services are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 16 at New Ahoskie Baptist Church. Interment will follow in the Mitchell Memorial Garden.

Mitchell served locally as a schoolteacher, church and community leader, and educational administrator. He was also an accomplished musician, serving as an organist and choir director over the course of several decades at Pleasant Plains Baptist Church, New Hope Church, and New Ahoskie Baptist Church.

In 1987, Dr. Mitchell, who had initially served Roanoke-Chowan Community College as a faculty member and later in an administrative capacity, took the reigns as the RCCC’s fourth president. That marked the first time an African American had been chosen to lead that institution of higher learning since its founding in 1967.

Dr. Harold Mitchell

Mitchell served in that capacity until 2000. He also served brief stints as Interim President of Halifax Community College in Weldon and back again at RCCC in the fall of 2012 and spring of 2013.

He eventually earned the title of President Emeritus at RCCC.

Deborah “DeeDee” Dickinson, currently Dean of Academic Affairs at RCCC, worked with Dr. Mitchell from 1996 until his retirement, and once again when he returned as interim president.

“He was an integral part of the community college and to what it gives to the community on an ongoing basis because he kept RCCC going the number of years as president, administrator, and an instructor,” Dickerson said. “He had a heart for the community college system and he had a heart for the citizens of this area. He will be sorely missed.”

Dickerson stressed that Mitchell’s work ethic was second to none and that legacy rubbed off on her and others.

“Some of us give our hearts and souls to the citizens we serve and we give it outside that 9-to-5 general working range non-educators are used to working,” she noted. “It’s a life calling and it takes time away from the family and I knew he had time away from his family based on the time he put in here at the college.

“I will miss him and the thought of what he contributed to the community college system, and to the education system have come to a halt and he will not be able to contribute any more, but his memory and his legacy will always be a contribution,” she added.

Lewis C. Hoggard III, Coordinator of Human Resource Development and Male Minority Mentoring programs at RCCC, also sang the praises of Dr. Mitchell.

“Doc was a guiding light; he was always encouraging students, staff, and anyone,” Hoggard stated. “He said we should always strive to do better and to support one another in every form of human endeavor. He truly was a guiding light.”

Mitchell was also supportive of the local community by serving as a member of the Director’s Council at Vidant Roanoke-Chowan Hospital. Additionally he served for eight years as a member of the Board of Trustees at Elizabeth City State University, two years of which he was Chairman of the Board.

Dr. Mitchell was a proud member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. He was a life member and Polemarch of the Ahoskie Alumni Chapter of that organization.

“He was not a self-centered man, rather he lived his life always in the greater good of serving others,” said his niece, Carmento Floyd of Ahoskie.

Floyd remembered Mitchell’s father (Wayland) dying before Dr. Mitchell reached his teenage years.

“He was the oldest son and he took it upon himself to ensure that his brothers and sisters followed the right path and received a proper education,” Floyd remarked.

In that vein, all 10 children of the Mitchell family attended college, and eight graduated with more than one degree.

Dr. Mitchell, after graduating from Robert L. Vann High School in 1955, earned his undergraduate degrees in Biology and Chemistry from North Carolina A&T State University. From there he went forward to gain a Master of Science degree and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from North Carolina State University.

“He also made sure that his grandchildren, nieces and nephews all attended college and entered their chosen career paths fully prepared,” Floyd added. “And I cannot remember him not attending their graduation ceremonies. He was a remarkable man.

“He was our pillar, our rock,” she continued. “He was like a dad to all of us. He only had two children, but he raised 40. He was always part of the major decisions we made in our lives. We always sought his advice about anything and everything, and he always obliged by sharing his enormous wisdom. I doubt any of us would be where we are today without him. He was our hero.”

Mitchell is survived by his wife, Doretha; two sons, Glenn and Darrin; two daughters in-law, Brenda and Tekeisha; and eight grandchildren in addition to extended family members of which he was extremely proud to call his relatives.

Floyd talked about her uncle’s other attributes in life.

“He was an accomplished musician, and he willingly shared that gift by teaching others to play the organ and the violin,” she noted. “He had a group of younger violin players at New Ahoskie (Baptist Church) that traveled and performed all over.”

In reality, Dr. Mitchell never retired from education. After his career ended at RCCC, Mitchell was at the forefront of establishing an after-school program and annual summer camp for children at New Ahoskie Baptist Church. There he not only served as a educational tutor, but was able to broaden the horizons of his young pupils by establishing a drum line and a tap dance troop in addition to his string ensemble.

“I can’t begin to think of a number that matches how many children he tutored in math and science,” Floyd stressed.

It’s apparent that education was his passion, which began professionally in 1959 as a high school teacher. Outside of his family, Mitchell once said his greatest joy in life was teaching his favorite courses: biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics.

Those joys of life ended on Thursday, Aug. 10, but due to his belief in his maker, comfort can be found in the fact that they will continue elsewhere.