by Rod D. Martin
October 25, 2009
John “Jack” Mitchell of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., went home to be with the Lord he loved on Oct. 15, 2009. He was 80 years old.
He was born on Oct. 24, 1928, in Newark, N.J. Born of Irish immigrants Joseph and Mary Ellen Mitchell, “Johnny,” as he was then called, grew up in a multi-generational home, with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings all under the same roof. There he learned to work hard, taking his first job at the age of 11, setting bowling pins at night to help the family earn money.
As a young teenage boy he showed an unusual proclivity for all sports, even pitching to the great Babe Ruth. After high school, he played professional baseball with the Pirates and Giants organizations, demonstrating such skill in stealing bases that he was called the “Jack Rabbit.”
While playing professional baseball and coaching college ball, Jack also attended Elon College on a basketball scholarship, obtaining a B.A. in English literature. While there, he met the love of his life, Sue Haley, a beautiful southern belle from Gibsonville, N.C. He fell instantly in love with her and they married on July 11, 1952. Two children followed: a son, Shawn; and a daughter, Sherri.
Faced with a growing family and the radically lower salaries paid to professional athletes of the day, Jack went to work for Metropolitan Life Insurance and in 1963 he moved with the company to Fort Walton Beach. Once again, he excelled in his chosen profession and became a Certified Life Underwriter.
But it was in the fall of 1975, at the age of 46, that Jack’s life was utterly transformed, when he, a sinner, was saved entirely by the grace of Jesus Christ. His life was never the same. All who knew him testified that they had never seen such a miraculous conversion or powerful witness for the Lord. He spent the rest of his life studying God’s Word and proclaiming it boldly to all whom he met, and his ever-increasing love toward God’s people – not least toward his beloved Trinity Presbyterian Church in Valparaiso – powerfully affected countless lives.
Jack’s faith came to shape every area of his life, including his worldview. He was a staunch conservative, and he constantly prayed for the day when godly people would once again govern the country he loved so much. His hope was that his grandchildren could enjoy the freedoms that he had, particularly the freedom to worship and the freedom of speech, in a land that once again fully embraced life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
In his latter years, Jack derived great joy from playing his piano and from cooking, and he daily played 18 holes of golf almost until his death. His faithfulness and devotion to his family was both exceptional and sacrificial, and this was reciprocated with intense loyalty, respect and love. He did all things with enthusiasm and with excellence, and to the very last, when he stepped up to the plate, he swung for the fences.
Surviving Jack are his wife, Sue Mitchell of Fort Walton Beach; his son, Shawn Mitchell and wife Ann; and his daughter, Sherri Martin and husband Rod, all of Niceville, Fla.; as well as his sister, Joan Billand; and his brothers, Joseph and James Mitchell.
Jack is also survived by his adored and adoring grandchildren, Dolly Ledzinski and her husband Jerry of Carmel, Calif., Dr. Archer Martin and his wife Elizabeth of New Haven, Conn., William Mitchell of Tampa, Fla., Elizabeth Mitchell of Birmingham, Ala., Shawn Mitchell Jr. of Niceville, Haley Martin of Jacksonville, Fla., and Tiffany and Kristal Schwartz of San Jose, Calif.
Services will be held at the First Presbyterian Church of Niceville on Tuesday, Oct. 27 at 10 a.m. The Rev. Mickey Schneider will preside. Pallbearers will be Shawn Mitchell, Rod Martin, William Mitchell, Archer Martin, Shawn Mitchell Jr., Pat Tidwell, David Goetsch, Sam Nelson and Greg Waldron.