By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
Sunday Times reporter James A. Mitchell, 56, of Sterling Heights died Saturday, Aug. 20 of an apparent heart attack.
He is survived by his son, Alex, a Marine, and his girlfriend of 20 years, Linda Remilong.
Friend and fellow journalist Phil Allmen said Mitchell’s most life-changing story began in 2004 when, as a reporter for the South Lyon Herald he interviewed local residents trying to help a Sri Lanka orphanage after the region was hit by a tsunami.
Allmen said when Mitchell covered the story, he became more involved with the work, and convinced the paper’s owner to let him travel to Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, to the orphanage, The Grace Care Center, in a war-torn area, to document the experiences of the volunteers.
He said when Mitchell saw the conditions in the area, he became an active member of Le Ahavta (“you shall love”) charity, and helped the volunteers separate the orphanage from its local ties by creating a board of directors responsible for the facility’s independent and financially sound operation.
Mitchell made seven trips to Sri Lanka in the next 10 years, and served as the board president for four years.
He wrote “But for the Grace: Profiles in Peace from a Nation at War” in 2009 based on his first-hand observation and experience.
Remilong said his involvement in Sri Lanka was an example of how Mitchell would reach out to others whenever he could.
“This was an experience that compelled him to do all he could to help, even reaching out to village people, helping to obtain water pots so families could get water back to their shelter,” Remilong said. “He was giving with his heart and his time.”
Allmen said Mitchell’s articles about Sri Lanka caught the attention of Mitch Ryder, who asked him to write his biography, “It Was All Right: Mitch Ryder’s Life in Music,” published in 2008 by Wayne State University Press.
He also wrote “Applegate: Freedom of the Press in a Small Town,” a chronicle of First Amendment challenges in a Midwestern community, published in 2002 by University Press of America, and “The Walrus and the Elephants: John Lennon’s Years of Revolution” in 2013, published by Seven Stories Press.
Mitchell wrote for “Firehouse Magazine” from 1986 to 1988, and “Video Business Magazine,” both based in New York City, before moving back to Michigan.
He wrote for The Armada Times from 1997 to 1999, The Spinal Column newsweekly in Waterford from 2000 to 2003, and The South Lyon Herald from 2003 to 2009. He began writing for the Downriver Sunday Times, a Bewick publication, in June 2011. He reported on the cities of Lincoln Park, Southgate, Taylor and Trenton.
Allmen said Mitchell favored community journalism.
“He flourished as a reporter and editor, making connections with people throughout the community and telling their stories,” he said. “He was quick to call BS when politicians tried to give him the runaround, but just as happy to give kudos for a job well done.”
Allmen said Mitchell was a great friend, and like any good reporter, a great listener. He also mentored young reporters, even when grumbling about their antics.
Mitchell’s work was published in dozens of newspapers and magazines, including The Humanist, HOUR Detroit, Ambassador, Crain’s Detroit Business, The Detroit, Foreward Reviews, Entertainment Weekly, Video Business and Starlog.
Mitchell received an associate’s degree from Macomb County Community College, and served in the U.S. Army from 1981 to 1985 as a soldier and photojournalist. He was stationed in Fort Campbell, Ky., Germany and Honduras.
Remilong said writing was his passion and purpose in life.
“He recently signed for another publication, of a true crime, that he was looking forward to and excited about,” Remilong said. “All looking up, just to be taken away so quickly and unexpected.”
She said Mitchell was not one to sit around.
“He always had a project going on, whether it was around the house or work,” Remilong said, “with a moving forward attitude of ‘better to come.’ Those words will always stay with me.”
She said he had many friends at home and abroad.
“It helps me knowing he will not be forgotten,” Remilong said. “He did make his mark in the world, not only through his words, but through his deeds.”
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected].)