August 8, 2010

The man for the job

As Waterville is set to honor a native son, George Mitchell and his friends and family recall his earliest influences.

By AMY CALDER Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — No matter how important his job or mission, George Mitchell never lets his hometown stray far from his thoughts.

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George Mitchell

The Associated Press

After all, it is here that his three siblings and much of his extended family live, and here that his earliest memories were made.

“Like most people, I’m a product of my upbringing – my parents, the schools I attended, the community I lived in – so I think my growing up in Waterville has had a large and important role in my life,” he said.

Indeed, Waterville is the place where a young man who one day would be asked to step in as chairman of the troubled Walt Disney Co. got his first taste of the free enterprise system, cleaning at the local Boys Club.

It’s where Mitchell, who later in life would be called upon to investigate steroid abuse in Major League Baseball, learned to love the game – and the Red Sox.

It’s the place where a boy who grew up to be one of the world’s leading diplomats was first recognized as someone who could bring people together.

Even in his youth, George J. Mitchell Jr. was a negotiator of sorts, resolving arguments that occasionally broke out among his friends.

“He always had a way to get you to agree with him,” recalls his old friend Tony Joseph. “He would settle things … and I think he’s still doing it. We gave him a lot of experience.”

Joseph, now 78, remembers Mitchell in high school, working as sports editor, attending Boys State and serving in the student senate.

“You could see he was a leader,” Joseph said. “He helped if we had any problems, helped make rules and regulations.”

Joseph could not have imagined at the time to what extent Mitchell would become valued and respected around the world as a mediator and peacemaker, negotiating peace in Northern Ireland in the late 1990s and now working to bring peace to the Middle East as President Obama’s special envoy to the region.

Mitchell, 76, will return home this week to attend a special tribute sponsored by the Boys & Girls Club and YMCA at the Alfond Youth Center in Waterville. He will be honored for his work as a U.S. senator, judge, international diplomat and loyal supporter of the youth center. Mitchell was a member of the Boys Club in his youth and was later inducted into its Hall of Fame.

Gov. John Baldacci will be master of ceremonies for the sold-out event on Thursday evening. The expected 420 guests will include Mitchell’s family, U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, area legislators, George J. Mitchell scholars and Olympic gold medalist Seth Wescott, according to Ken Walsh, the Alfond Center’s chief executive officer.

A special video will be shown, featuring former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. and former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern.


On a recent break from Middle East negotiations, Mitchell spoke by phone from his summer home in Seal Harbor on Mount Desert Island, reflecting on his work, family and early life in Waterville.

The one-time Senate majority leader, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize after negotiating Northern Ireland’s Good Friday peace agreement in 1998, believes there will be peace in the Middle East, although he can’t say when.

“I’ve always shied away from predictions,” he said, “because human ability to predict future events is very limited and there are so many factors, so many actors, so many differences in the Middle East.”

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