More than just a boss to me
By Joe McConnell
For the better part of three decades, there was one constant in my journalism career, and that was working for the Everett Advocate and its sister publications in Revere, Saugus and Malden.
The Chelsea Advocate was started in Chelsea by James Donald Mitchell, Jr., who was a distinguished advertising executive for many years at the Malden Evening News, Medford Mercury and Melrose Evening News. He always wanted to publish a newspaper in his hometown after serving its residents in the political arena. But his passion was always in the print medium, while also understanding what the business was all about, and what readers wanted from their local newspaper. He eventually passed on that enthusiasm to his son, Jim, who came aboard in 1992. Within a year, they expanded into Everett and Revere. I witnessed that growth first-hand as their sportswriter, an association I was able to maintain to this day. That’s why when I read Jim’s Facebook post last Saturday I was struck with sudden sadness. He stated that his dad had passed away on Friday at the age of 86, before elaborating eloquently on his well-rounded life.
After reading Jim’s straight from the heart eulogy on his dad, so many fond memories started racing through my mind. I can honestly say my experiences writing for them was never dull.
Jim’s dad never sat idly by if he saw a wrong that needed to be righted. He pointed out those indiscretions – many of them emanating from city government – in his popular “Sounds of Everett” column that became a must-read every Friday from Day 1 in 1993.
Throughout the years, I also helped the Mitchells out as a photographer, typesetter and courier. At times, I was even Jim’s Uber driver, before there was ever such a thing. If he needed a ride home after many late nights wrapping up the papers at the office, I’d give him a lift back to Chelsea. There were times he needed to get to an advertiser – even on weekends – and I’d be right there to help him out. I was just proud to be a part of a fast-growing business.
Jim’s dad never got pushed around. But for those who didn’t have the wherewithal to defend themselves like special needs kids he was right there for them. Kids like Phil constantly hung out in the office, because he always made them feel right at home.
There was also the late Bobby C, an actor who had small parts in major motion pictures, who was misunderstood by many, but Jim’s dad made him feel important, and if he needed a few extra bucks, he was right there to give him some, or the ability to earn it by cleaning up the office weekly.
For me personally, there are so many stories. I will never forget him for his support of me when my mom passed away two days after 9/11. It was a Thursday, and I was coming into work when my dad called to tell me she had just died. I was on my way to Revere to pick up pictures for that week’s papers, but when I returned, I met Jim outside to tell him the sad news. He naturally told me to go home.
I remembered Kristen, who helped the Mitchells paginate the papers back then, telling me afterwards that he was quiet for the rest of the day. He just quickly wrapped up Everett. Once done, Kristen stayed to finish up Revere, while he went home to call me to see if I was OK.
The day of my mom’s wake he came to Somerville with his wife and son to pay their respects. I’ll never forget this. A year later, he helped me secure a mortgage on my condo with a letter of employment and how much he paid me. He’d also often say to anyone who’d listen that I was the greatest writer he ever knew, who never went to every game.
Jim’s dad would make many of us who worked for him over the years feel like a part of his family. I carried that a step further about eight years ago when I used Joe Mitchell as a pen name, when I wrote for his Lynnfield Advocate to avoid any conflict of interests with another North Shore publisher that employed me at that time. I didn’t think twice about it, because it seemed so natural for me, and that’s why the news of his death remains difficult for me to comprehend.
Ironically, he died on the day The Advocate hits the streets, a sure sign that he was a true professional newspaperman right to the very end.