Donald J. Mitchell

Donald Jerome Mitchell (May 8, 1923 – September 27, 2003) represented New York in the United States House of Representatives from 1973 to 1983.

Donald J. Mitchell
Donald J. Mitchell.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 31st district
In office
January 3, 1973 – January 3, 1983
Preceded byAlexander Pirnie
Succeeded byDavid O'Brien Martin
Member of the New York State Assembly
from the Herkimer County district
In office
January 1, 1965 – December 31, 1965
Preceded byLeo A. Lawrence
Succeeded byDistrict abolished
In office
January 1, 1966 – December 31, 1966
Preceded bynew district
Succeeded byLouis H. Folmer
In office
January 1, 1967 – November 7, 1972
Preceded byHarvey M. Lifset
Succeeded byK. Daniel Haley
Personal details
Born(1923-05-08)May 8, 1923
Ilion, New York
DiedSeptember 27, 2003(2003-09-27) (aged 80)
Little Falls, New York
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Margaretta "Gretta" Mitchell
Margaretta Wilson LeVee)
- m. 1945–2003, his death
Alma materHobart College / Columbia Univ.
Occupationelected official / optometrist

Early lifeEdit

Donald J. "Don" Mitchell, a native of Central Upstate New York's Mohawk Valley, with ancestral family roots tracing back to the American Revolution, was born in Ilion, New York, in 1923.[1]

The oldest child of Donald J. Mitchell and Winnifred Packard Mitchell of Herkimer, New York, he attended the Herkimer Public School System, graduating in 1940 from Herkimer High School,[2] which had been founded in 1899.

In 1945, after returning home from his military service during World War II, Mitchell married Margaretta "Gretta" Wilson LeVee, the daughter of E. Allen LeVee and Margaret Tinker LeVee, of Little Falls, New York.[2][a][3]

Married for over 57 years at the time of the Congressman's death in 2003, the Mitchells had three children – Gretchen, Cynthia, and Allen – and two grandchildren, Susan and Lisa.[1][2]

Military serviceEdit

Carrier-based US Navy Air Corps pilot flies an Aircraft carrier, 1943

During World War II, Mitchell served as a carrier-based fighter pilot in the United States Navy from 1942 until 1945.[2] An avid pilot in private life, Dr. Mitchell re-enlisted in the Navy in 1951, and served as a Naval Flight Instructor in Pensacola, Florida, from 1951–1953, during the Korean War.[1]

Professional career / Civic serviceEdit

Following his military service in World War II, Mitchell completed a bachelor's degree in Optometry at Hobart College in 1949, and earned a master's degree from Columbia University in 1950. In the early 1950s he founded an optometry practice in Herkimer, New York.[2]

In 1954, he was elected to the Herkimer City Council (1954–1957), and served as Mayor of Herkimer from 1957 to 1960. He was also active in numerous civic and charitable organizations. Among those were: the Boy Scouts of America, the American Civil Defense Association, the Central Association for the Blind, the Eastern New York Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, the Mohawk Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, the United Way, and the Herkimer County Historical Society. Additionally, he served as a member of the Herkimer Zoning Board of Appeals from 1963 until 1964, until elected to the New York State Assembly.[1][2]

NY State AssemblyEdit

In 1964, Mitchell was elected to represent Herkimer County in the New York State Assembly.[1]

He was a member of the State Assembly from 1965 to 1972, serving in the 175th, 176th, 177th, 178th and 179th New York State Legislatures.[2] He served in the Republican leadership as the Assembly's Majority Whip from 1969 to 1972.[2]

United States CongressEdit

In 1972, Mitchell was elected to the United States Congress where he represented what is now New York's 31st Congressional District.[4] After being successfully re-elected to a second term by a wide margin in 1974, he then ran unopposed to for three more terms,[2] serving in Congress a total of 10 years from January 3, 1973, until January 3, 1983.[1][5]

While in the U.S. Congress, Mitchell served on the House Armed Services Committee, and was elected by his colleagues and served four years in the House Republican Leadership as Regional Whip for New England and the Mid-Atlantic States.[4]

Mitchell was also a founder of, and the first Chairman of the Northeast/Midwest Coalition in the U.S. House of Representatives, and was a founding member of the Congressional Tourism Caucus.[2]

Central NY State Tourism / Economic DevelopmentEdit

Aerial view of National Monument

Among his other accomplishments as a Member of Congress, he was responsible for establishing Leatherstocking Country, a nine-county tourism district in Central New York state, and played a key role in the House in establishing Fort Stanwix National Monument as a unit of the National Park System.

Griffiss AFBEdit

He and a coalition of other House members also started a campaign in the early 1970s to persuade the Defense Department to award more military contracts and employ more people in the Northeast, which was losing Defense funding and contracts to the South. And in 1974, Mitchell led another successful campaign to prevent the Air Force from cutting 1,500 jobs at the Rome Air Development Center at Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, NY[6]

"Save the Theatres" EffortEdit

In 1982, at the behest of Broadway Producer Joe Papp, and with the encouragement of members of his family and others involved in a "Save the Theatres"[7][8][9][10] effort to preserve historic Broadway theatres in New York City, Mitchell introduced legislation in the Congress along with 13 co-sponsors[b] to designate a "Broadway/Times Square Theatre District National Historic Site" in Mid-Town Manhattan.[c]

Mitchell's bill (97th Congress – H.R.6885) faced fierce opposition and extensive lobbying mounted against it by Mayor Ed Koch's administration and big-money Manhattan development interests. Although the measure was, consequently, never enacted – the overall effect of his legislative initiative and of the "Save the Theatres" effort generally, however, was to slow down the rapid destruction of the old Theater District. This allowed for the preservation of at least some of the historic playhouses, with the eventual designation by the City of an official "Theater Subdistrict",[d] and helped to ensure retention of a measure of the District's original flavor, atmosphere, charm and historic character for future generations of theatregoers and visitors to the City.[12]

As a result in large part to Papp's efforts, with the support of Congressman Mitchell and many others, the Theater District remains one of New York City's primary and most popular tourist attractions and destinations.[12]

Life after Congress / AccoladesEdit

Historic Herkimer County Courthouse Building

In 1984, Mitchell retired from public service and returned to Herkimer, New York. There he resumed his optometry practice, he and his wife Gretta dividing their time between homes in the Mohawk Valley and in Cedar Key, Florida.[1][2]

Tributes and awardsEdit

During his long career of military and public service, Mitchell had received many awards and honors. These included among others the Jimmy Doolittle Fellowship, an award presented by the Aerospace Education Foundation of the Air Force Association; Patriot of the Year, presented by the New York State Reserve Officers Association; and the National Security Award presented by the US Civil Defense Council.[citation needed]

Following his retirement, Mitchell received a number of tributes of various sorts.[5][failed verification] Among these was the naming in his honor of the Veterans Administration hospital clinic at Griffiss Air Force Base near Rome, New York – which was formally designated by Act of Congress, signed into law by President Clinton, to be known as the "Donald J. Mitchell VA Outpatient Clinic". The facility provides primary care and other health care services for veterans in the greater Utica-Rome-Syracuse area in Central New York State.[13]

A highway bridge over West Canada Creek in the Mohawk Valley just north of the Village of Herkimer was officially designated by Herkimer County in 1988 as the "Donald J. Mitchell Bridge" in his honor.

Donald J. Mitchell Scholarship FundEdit

In 1992, Congressman Mitchell and his family established the "Donald J. Mitchell Family Fund", a charitable trust fund administered through the Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties based in Utica. The foundation and the Mitchell fund's mission is to build partnerships, inspire leadership and generate positive outcomes toward increasing the percentage of adults with bachelor's degrees in Herkimer and Oneida counties, through annual grants to local students; and to embrace other programs and collaborations that address economic development, education, health, and arts and culture in the region.[14] Since its inception in 1992, the Mitchell Fund has provided Mitchell Scholarship grants each year to student recipients attending Herkimer County Community College and Mohawk Valley Community College.


Mitchell died on September 27, 2003, of complications associated with Parkinson's disease. Upon his death, the Utica Observer-Dispatch newspaper noted: "If anyone can be heralded for having led an exemplary life, its former U.S. Congressman Donald J. Mitchell.... Mitchell managed to balance a vigorous commitment to community and country without ever forsaking family and friends – and he left a legacy of pride along a path that took him from the Mohawk Valley to the Nation's Capital and back again."[1]

Escorted by both Active Duty, and American Legion Veterans honor guards – and borne by uniform personnel representing all branches of the U.S. Military – Mitchell was interred with full military honors, accompanied by "Taps" and the firing of volley shots, on a hillside at the Oak Hill Cemetery overlooking a tributary of the Mohawk River in his hometown of Herkimer, New York.[1][2]


  1. ^ Mrs. Mitchell (née LeVee), a cousin to President Woodrow Wilson, is also related to Thomas Tinker who came to America aboard the Mayflower cf. Mayflower Manifest: "Passenger List:... Thomas Tinker; the Wife of Thomas Tinker; the Son of Thomas Tinker".
  2. ^ Co-sponsors of the legislation included: Rep. Michael D. Barnes (MD), Rep. Barber B. Conable, Jr. (NY), Rep. Thomas A. Daschle (SD), Rep. Arlen Erdahl (MN), Rep. David W. Evans (IN), Rep. Hamilton Fish, Jr. (NY), Rep. Thomas M. Foglietta (PA), Rep. Peter A. Peyser (NY), Rep. Peter W. Rodino, Jr. (NJ), Rep. Louis Stokes (OH), Rep. Ted Weiss (NY), Rep. George C. Wortley (NY), and Rep. Ron Wyden (OR).[1]
  3. ^ The bill as drafted proposed designation of the Theatre District in New York as the "Broadway/Times Square Theatre District National Historic Site." It would have required the United States to provide assistance in the preservation of the historical, cultural, and architectural character of the site and in its restoration, upgrading, and maintenance. It directed the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the National Park Service, to designate theatre preservation sites and other appropriate real property within the site as national historic landmarks if they met the criteria for national historic landmarks, and would have prohibited the demolition or alteration of real property located within the site unless such demolition or alteration would contribute to the preservation, restoration, or enhancement of the site for traditional legitimate theatre purposes. It also would require the National Park Service to provide technical assistance to carry out the Act, and authorized NPS to provide property owners within the site with emergency assistance in preserving or protecting their property. Finally, it would have established a Federally chartered citizens advisory group to be chaired by Papp known as the "Broadway/Times Square Theatre District Preservation Commission" which would provide advice to the Government on actions that could be taken and policies that should be appropriately applied in carrying out the Act.[11]
  4. ^ New York City's Theater District (officially zoned as the "Theater Subdistrict") is an area in Midtown Manhattan where most Broadway theatres are located, as well as many other theaters, movie theaters, restaurants, hotels, and other places of entertainment. It extends from West 40th Street to West 54th Street, from west of Sixth Avenue to east of Eighth Avenue, and includes Times Square.[12]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Utica Observer-Dispatch, Utica, NY, October 1, 2003.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l The Herkimer Evening Telegram, Herkimer, NY, September 29, 2003.
  3. ^ Margaretta L. "Gretta" Mitchell 1924 - 2017., Observer-Dispatch, Utica, New York, 2–3 June 2017. Retrieved on 8 July 2017.
  4. ^ a b Congressional Directory; 97th Congress, United States Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1981.
  5. ^ a b O'Connor, Anahad (October 1, 2003). "Donald Mitchell, 80, Lawmaker Who Brought Defense Jobs North". The New York Times. Retrieved December 12, 2015.
  6. ^ "The Sun Sentinel", Fort Lauderdale, FL – October 2, 2003.
  7. ^ "Proposal to Save Morosco and Helen Hayes Theaters" Archived May 20, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, LHP Architects, accessed March 10, 2013
  8. ^ Helen Epstein (1994). Joe Papp: An American Life. Little, Brown. p. 403. ISBN 9780316246040. Retrieved February 22, 2013.
  9. ^ "City Panel Near Vote On Save-The-Theaters Proposals". The New York Times. New York City. April 15, 1984. Retrieved February 22, 2013.
  10. ^ Corwin, Betty "Theatre on film and tape archive" Archived September 21, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, International Association of Libraries and Museums of the Performing Arts, accessed May 10, 2013
  11. ^ Library of Congress – HR 6885, 97th Congress[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ a b c "New York City Department of City Planning". Archived from the original on March 14, 2013. Retrieved March 3, 2013.
  13. ^ U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, VISN 2: New York/New Jersey VA Health Care Network, "Rome, New York" 2016. [2]. Retrieved on 8 July 2017.
  14. ^ The Community Foundation of Herkimer & Oneida Counties Official Website Retrieved 2015-09-20

External linksEdit

New York State Assembly
Preceded by New York State Assembly
Herkimer County

Succeeded by
district abolished
Preceded by
new district
New York State Assembly
122nd District

Succeeded by
Preceded by New York State Assembly
112th District

Succeeded by
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 31st congressional district

Succeeded by