Remembering My Friend Danny F. Mitchell, 1947-2014, for a Life Well Lived
By Philip Shirley
Oh, Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side,
The summer’s gone, and all the roses falling,
It’s you, it’s you must go and I must bide.
In the early morning hours of September 14 we lost our friend, colleague, coach, cheerleader, heckler and former leader Danny F. Mitchell suddenly and unexpectedly. A month later many of us continue to feel the shock and sorrow of a life cut too short, but we can still celebrate a life well lived.
Danny had given much of his life to GodwinGroup and loved its staff as family. He came to Godwin in the mid-1980s to lead a transition from the “second generation” of ad agency owners into the new era of a modern marketing firm. I was fortunate enough to join the transition team in 1989 and work with him for more than 20 years. Danny stepped down as CEO in 2007, challenging me to find a new generation of leadership to carry on his vision for delivering to companies in the South “the same level of advertising they would expect from New York,” as he was fond of saying.
Danny taught us many things. He stressed we must work to control our future by making aggressive decisions today. He demonstrated passion about success in business and let clients know we would do battle for them. He was not afraid to fire a client whose vision of a good partnership did not match ours. Not every day was perfect, and anyone who knows Danny knew there were days it was best just to avoid his office. He didn’t like to lose. He could be impatient and demanding and headstrong, but Danny also had a tender side that would empathize with staff personal issues and try to help. And many would call him mentor. Years ago he told me that my greatest task as the new company president was to find a role where each employee could succeed. He truly cared about his employees.
At any moment, Danny might break into a song or grab the agency intercom at four and tell people to go home. His sense of humor and sometimes non-PC jokes drew plenty of groans and laughs.
He remained as chairman until 2010 and worked part-time another couple of years helping us find new growth opportunities. At the end of 2012 he finally hung up his saddle after 30 years of service to Godwin and learned to enjoy his time with tennis and the beach and a cabin in Prentiss, Mississippi, on what had been long-time family land near the cemetery where he now rests. He and his wife Patty traveled to Europe and Israel. They spent lots of time with their children Amy, Emily, and Ben and his wife Anna.
He was generous with time and money in his church, his college alma mater Southern Miss and in his community.
Danny was a board member and president of the USM Alumni Association, which recognized him with the university’s Outstanding Service Award, and the USM Hall of Fame; he served as president of the USM Foundation Board and was member of the Honors Club; he was an inaugural member of USM’s School of Mass Communication & Journalism-College of Arts & Letters’ Wall of Fame; and a lifelong member of the USM Eagle Club and its Circle of Champions.
I think he may have been proudest of his induction as the first ad person into the Mississippi Business Hall of Fame.
He served on countless boards over the years including the Board of Governors of the Mississippi Economic Council; Chairman of the Board Mississippi Food Network; and on Boards of Directors for JOBS for Mississippi Graduates; American Red Cross (Central Mississippi); United Way of the Capitol Area; Goodwill Industries; Vice President, Economic Development for the Metro Jackson Chamber of Commerce; and Past President, Public Relations Association of Mississippi. Even in retirement he dedicated his time to Make a Wish, long after there was any business networking reason.
More than once over the past month I have caught myself thinking I need to call Danny and tell him about some interesting project or about a call from a past client friend. It’s so hard to imagine that someone so full of life and vigor has moved on to another place when there was so much more he had to offer the world.
Danny wanted to count for something. He wanted to make a difference. And I can promise you, he did.