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Our friend Cathy Rogers called last night with the sad news that Dr. Bill Mitchell passed away the night before in his sleep. Apparently his son Noah had died of a heart attack in the arms of his girlfriend that same day, and what I knew of Bill he was just the sort of person who could die from a broken heart.
My earliest memories of Bill are the first flurry of days after my transfer to Bastyr College, in 1978. I had to interview with a board member, and so it was to Bill's office on Queen Ann Hill in Seattle Washington that I journeyed. After waiting what feel like an interminable time, out he came, wearing Birkenstocks, which I had never seen before (remember this was 1978), and could not imagine anyone would wear these to work. He was talking to the patient who had just seen him and he kind of hugged/slapped them on the back, saying he was so happy that everything had worked out for them, and if there was anything else they needed, they should feel free to call. The look on his face was a mixture of illumination and joy; that look you sometimes see on a person's face when they suddenly realize that they are doing the right thing, in the right place, at the right time.
Bill was our botanical medicine instructor. His classes were always one of the most interesting, since he had literally inhaled the work of John Bastyr and many of the other great naturopaths who were now passing into old age.
Since there were no student loans at the time, I had to work many different jobs to pay for room and board. One of these was as a roving â€˜insurance examiner' that involved visiting a person's home and doing a few perfunctory type examinations, plus some urinalysis. During my first week, I received a ticket to visit the home of a certain William Mitchell who was applying for insurance. "No.â€? I said to myself, "This can't be Bill.â€?
It was hard to decide who was more uncomfortable: The wooly herbal jazz guitar playing mountain man or the lanky East Coast SONO city-slicker still trying to adjust to a new life in the laid back Pacific Northwest. We eventually got through the exam, but not before Bill offered to taste the urine to check for diabetes, and pronounced its smell "satisfactory.â€?
Years passed, and I next saw Bill at one of the Naturopathic Conferences in the late 1980's that I presented for. There he was, in the first row, scribbling notes at a furious pace. Then at one point I looked at him and he looked at me. He had that same exact expression on his face, except this time it was the look of a teacher, watching as one of his students goes forth into the world.
Over the years we've kept in touch, usually through third parties, who had come out of school after me and had been regaled with â€˜Mitchellology' a blend of wisdom, hominess and extra-dimensional space-time travel. When it was time to draw up the speaker roster for IfHI 2007, he was at the top of my list. We will fill the slot that was for Bill, but it won't be Bill, and IfHI 2007 will be a bit sadder for me.
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