Childhood & Early Life
George John Mitchell Jr. was born on August 20, 1933, in Waterville, Maine. He was the fourth of five children of George John Mitchell Sr. and Mary Saad. His father was an orphaned son of Irish immigrants, adopted by a Lebanese family, and was a laborer at the Colby College. His mother was a textile mill worker who had emigrated from Lebanon as a teenager. He had three brothers (all athletes) and a sister.
His family was Maronite Catholic and he served as an altar boy at St. Joseph’s Maronite Church, Maine. Mitchell studied at ‘St. Joseph’s Grammar School’ and then at ‘Waterville High School.’ He worked as a janitor during junior high and high school years. He received scholarship for higher education. In 1954, he graduated from Bowdoin College, Brunswick, with a degree in history. He was a part of the university basketball team and worked while pursuing his studies.
After graduation, he joined the US Army and served in the ‘Counter-intelligence Corps’ in Berlin, Germany, from 1954 to 1956. Subsequently, he joined the night classes at the ‘Georgetown University Law Center,’ Washington DC, and in 1961, he got his Bachelor of Laws degree. Later, he received an honorary ‘Doctor of Laws’ from Bates College.
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From 1960 to 1962, Mitchell worked as a trial lawyer in the anti-trust division of the Justice Department, Washington DC. In 1962, he began working as an executive assistant to Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine.
In 1964, Mitchell began working for the private law firm ‘Jensen, Baird, Gardner and Henry’ in Portland, Maine. Besides his legal practise, he also continued his interest in politics. During 1966-1968, he served as a state chairperson for the ‘Maine Democratic Party.’ During Muskie’s vice-presidential campaign in 1968, and presidential nomination in 1972, he worked as deputy campaign manager.
Mitchell continued with his law practice till 1977. He -served as an ‘assistant county attorney’ for Cumberland County in 1971. In 1974, he contested for the seat of governor of Maine, but lost to an independent candidate.
In 1977, President Carter appointed Mitchell as ‘United States Attorney’ for Maine. In 1979, the President appointed him as ‘US District Court Judge’ in Northern Maine. Though it was lifetime post, Mitchell resigned in 1980, as he was appointed to the US Senate to complete Muskie’s term as Senator (Muskie had moved on to become US Secretary of State).
After completing his term, Mitchell contested and won the election with 61% votes to a full-term as Senator. In 1984 he was chosen to chair the ‘Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.’ He helped the party capture 8 new seats and a 55-45 majority in Senate, so he was made ‘Deputy President pro tempore’ in the 100th US Congress.
During his term as Senator, Mitchell served on the finance, veterans’ affairs, environment, and public works committees. In 1987, he gained national attention over his participation in the Senate hearing of ‘Iran-Contra Committee’ and his criticism of Oliver North.
In 1988, Mitchell was elected a Senator for a second time with 81% votes - highest for any Maine candidate. The Democratic Party elected him ‘Senate Majority Leader,’ a post that he assumed from 1989 and served till 1995. During his tenure he helped in reauthorizing ‘Clean Air Act’ and passing the ‘Americans with Disabilities Act.’
Mitchell did not to contest the 1994 elections. When Justice Harry Blackmun announced his retirement, President Clinton offered him an appointment to the United States Supreme Court, but he turned down the offer, stating his wish to help in health-care reform proposals. After retiring from the senate, he joined the Washington DC law firm ‘Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand.’
In 1995, Mitchell became special advisor to President Clinton on Ireland issue and from 1996 to 2000, he was appointed as ‘Independent Chairman of Northern Ireland Peace Talks.’ He led the team to the ‘Belfast Peace Agreement or Good Friday Agreement,’ which was accepted by both, Ireland and the UK. Mitchell was honored with several awards, including the highest civilian honor by the US government, ‘Presidential Medal of Freedom’; honorary Knighthood in the ‘Order of the British Empire,’ ‘The Philadelphia Liberty Medal,’ the ‘UNESCO Peace Prize,’ among others.
In 2000-2001, Mitchell was appointed as chairman of the ‘International Fact-Finding Committee on Violence in Middle East.’ The committee’s work resulted in ‘The Mitchell Report’ (2001). [In 2009 President Obama appointed him as ‘Special envoy for Middle East Peace].
Mitchell was appointed to lead investigations into the use of performance enhancing drugs by MLB players. He presented his report in 2007 (which included names of many prominent players). In 2007, Mitchell co-founded the ‘Bipartisan Policy Center,’ along with other former Senate majority leaders. He is also the founder of the ‘Mitchell Institute’ in Portland, Maine.
Mitchell was Chancellor of the Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland, for 10 years. He was president of ‘Economic Club of Washington DC,’ chairman of ‘International Crisis Group,’ and also chairman of the board of directors of ‘The Walt Disney Company.’ He was on the board of ‘Boston Red Sox,’ and director for several companies, including Xerox, Federal Express, Staples, Unilever, and others. He is partner and chairman of the multinational law firm ‘DLA Piper.’ He is honorary co-chairman of the ‘World Justice Project.’
Family & Personal Life
Mitchell was married to Sally Heath, and the couple had a daughter, Andrea. After 26 years of marriage, he divorced Sally in 1987. He got engaged to a sports management consultant Heather MacLachlan and subsequently married her on December 10, 1994. They have a son, Andrew, and a daughter, Claire.
In 2007, Mitchell was diagnosed with a low grade prostate cancer.