published Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Former Georgia congressman Erwin Mitchell dies

In this file photo from 2006, Erwin Mitchell sits in his office for The Georgia Project. Mitchell, a former U.S. Congressman and co-founder of the Georgia Project died Sept. 13, 2011.
In this file photo from 2006, Erwin Mitchell sits in his office for The Georgia Project. Mitchell, a former U.S. Congressman and co-founder of the Georgia Project died Sept. 13, 2011.
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MEMORIAL

* Memorial services will be at 3 p.m. today at Dalton First United Methodist Church, 500 S. Thornton Ave. The family will receive friends in the atrium of the church from 1 to 3 p.m.

* Family requests that flowers be omitted. Memorials can be made to Dalton First United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 627, Dalton, Ga.

Erwin Mitchell always wore his home-grown rosebuds pinned onto his lapel.

When he got home, he would put them down on his desk and his childhood sweetheart and wife would pick them up and put them all in a bowl, eventually making an arrangement out of all the rosebuds.

Mitchell, a two-term congressman, World War II veteran and Dalton, Ga., city attorney for 25 years, died Tuesday at age 87.

“He was the friendliest, most honest, most compassionate man I’ve ever known. He made everyone feel important,” said his daughter Leslie Zeller. She was one of three children born to Mitchell and his wife of 61 years, Helen, who died in 2004.

Mitchell was known for his rosebuds and his white linen and seersucker suit. People said he sprinkled “Mitchell dust” because he always made everyone feel important.

“He had a way of touching people’s lives,” said former district attorney Steve Williams, now an attorney with the Mc-Camy law firm in Dalton.

“He was someone you admired, certainly in his success, but also he had a great way of reaching out to younger lawyers,” Williams added, “You always felt he was glad to see you.”

And anyone trying a case against Mitchell knew he had his hands full, he said.

The son of a Dalton lawyer, Mitchell earned his law degree in 1948. He was district attorney for the Cherokee Circuit and was elected judge when he was 32, making him Georgia’s youngest Superior Court judge at the time, according to Times Free Press archives.

He served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat, giving up his seat in 1961 to run successfully for the state Senate.

In 1997, he helped create the Georgia Project, a nationally recognized program that sought to boost English proficiency for Spanish-speaking children. The program brought bilingual teachers from Mexico to Dalton and sent local teachers to a month-long intensive course on Spanish language and culture at the University of Monterrey in Mexico.

“He was very proud of the Georgia Project because it was a benefit to the whole community,” said Zeller, who first went to her father with concerns about teachers being able to communicate effectively with non-English speakers.

“He always had the ability to fix things and I don’t know how,” she added.

about Perla Trevizo...

Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...

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