By: Victoria Yates
George J Mitchell, GBE, was born on August 20th 1933 in Waterville, Maine to George John Mitchell, a janitor of Irish descent, and Mary Saad, a textile worker of Lebanese descent. In 1954 he graduated from Bowdoin College before receiving his law degree at Georgetown University Law Center in 1961. Mitchell served as a trial attorney in the Antitrust division of the US Department of Justice in Washington from 1960-62, and then as the executive assistant for Senator Edmund Muskie from 1962-65. He then practiced law for twelve years in Portland, Maine, serving for a while as assistant county attorney for Cumberland County.
His political career began in 1974 when he won the democratic nomination for Governor of Maine but lost in the general election to the independent candidate James B. Longley. In 1977, he was appointed as United States Attorney for Maine by President Carter, a post which he served for two years until appointed to the US District court for the District of Maine. Mitchell remained a federal judge until he was appointed to the Senate to complete an unfinished term left by Edmund Muskie. He was elected to his first full Senate term in 1982 where he remained until 1994. From 1989 until 1995 he served as Senate Majority leader and in 1994 he was offered a place on the Supreme Court by President Clinton. He declined this in order to focus on a health care plan that was before the Senate at the time.
After leaving the Senate, Mitchell continued to work in a variety of interesting positions, first returning to law at Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, Mcpherson and Hand (a firm for which he later became chairman). Here he received criticism for lobbying on behalf of the firm’s Big Tobacco clients.
Some of the work for which he is best known is as U.S. Special Envoy in the Northern Ireland peace process with which he has been involved since 1995. Mitchell began by leading a commission establishing principles on non-violence which all Northern Irish parties had to abide by. He subsequently chaired the all-party peace negotiations which led to the Belfast Peace Agreement signed on Good Friday 1998. His personal intervention was seen as vital to the eventual success of the talks. For this work Mitchell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1999) and the Liberty medal (1998).
Since 2002 Mitchell has been a Senior Fellow and Research Scholar at the Columbia University center for International Conflict Resolution where he is working to help avert and end conflicts between nations. Mitchell is also the founder of the Mitchell Institute in Portland, Maine which seeks to encourage young people from all communities to aspire to and achieve a college level of education.
In 2006 Mitchell headed an investigation into past steroid use by Major League Baseball players. He reported on this in 2007 – and it is fair to say that the report attracted controversy particularly from fans of the New York Yankees. The report included the names of 89 former and current players for whom it claimed that there was evidence of the use of steroids or other prohibited substances.
Adding to his impressive C.V. Mitchell was a member of the board of directors and subsequently Chairman of Disney. He is also a co-chairman for the Congressionally mandated task force on the United Nations, and, as of 2007, becoming a visiting professor in Leeds Metropolitan University’s School for Applied Global Ethics. Leeds Met is also developing a Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution bearing his name.
These many achievements are a testament to Mitchell’s leadership and (above all) listening skills which has helped him succeed in so many different areas of law and politics. He is truly an iconic and inspirational leader in his vital involvement in globally critical peace negotiations. Will he play a role in some form in the new Obama administration?