Businessman, community leader Billy Mitchell dies

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By James Roberts

James Roberts

Always supportive. Always smiling. Always well dressed.
That’s how friends are remembering Billy Mitchell, owner of Mitchell’s Men’s Wear and active community leader. Mitchell died last Friday. He was 86.
“He’s just like a father and mentor to me,” said Billy Joe Douglas, of Mitchell’s Men’s Wear. “He was witty, outgoing, caring and always willing to help.”
From his decades at Mitchell’s Men’s Wear to helping start Taylor County Hospital, friends say Mitchell had quite an impact throughout the county.
After returning home from World War II, Mitchell and his brother, Lynwood Mitchell Jr., began working in their father’s store. The store was opened as Hatcher Co. in 1910 by Daniel Hatcher in a rented room connected to the Merchant’s Hotel. In 1913, Hatcher joined forces with Lynn Mitchell Sr., renaming the store Hatcher-Mitchell Co. Five years later, Hatcher died and Mitchell eventually relocated to the business’s current location. It was renamed Mitchell’s Men’s Wear in the 1940s.
Laura Wilds, Mitchell’s daughter, continues the Mitchell family tradition of running the store.
“He was a role model,” Wilds said. “What a wonderful daddy I had.”
Though Wilds said her father always encouraged his children to have jobs outside Mitchell’s Men’s Wear, he was quick to welcome her back when she returned home to Campbellsville in 1990.
“My father’s knowledge was just vast,” Wilds said. “He was the most intelligent man I’ve ever known. He taught me so much about running the store.”
And when Wilds suggested adding women’s clothing to the store’s inventory, Mitchell was behind the idea completely.
Mitchell was last in the store about two weeks ago, though he hasn’t been active in the business for about two years because of his health. He sat and greeted customers as they would enter the store for a few hours.
Bill Chandler, owner of Chandler’s Office Supply, said he has known Mitchell all of his life.
Both men grew up around the Main Street businesses they would ultimately own.
“Billy was very smart,” Chandler said. “He had a pretty good intuition about things. He was always involved in the community.”
And his impact will likely always be felt on Main Street, Chandler said.
“Without his efforts throughout the years, downtown Campbellsville wouldn’t be what it is.”
Chandler said Mitchell was one of the originators of Campbellsville Commercial Development Corp., which bought parking lots for the downtown area. Some of those lots are still in use today.
But Mitchell’s legacy doesn’t end on Main Street. He was one of the founding board members of Taylor Regional Hospital, serving from 1975 to 1982.
“He was a wonderful person and always supported the hospital,” said Jane Wheatley, TRH CEO. “He was very community-minded and had a kind spirit. He was a very gentle man who earned a lot of respect. And he was always impeccably dressed.”
Terry Coyle, pharmacist at The Medicine Centre, first met Mitchell when Coyle moved to Campbellsville in 1971.
“He was one of the nicest guys you’d ever know,” Coyle said. “You couldn’t find one any nicer anywhere.”
Coyle said when he opened Coyle Drug downtown, Mitchell stopped by and welcomed him to downtown Campbellsville, as he did all new business owners.
Coyle and Mitchell got to know each other even better through Bethel First Presbyterian Church, where they sang in the choir.
Kay Shipp, a former employee of Citizens Bank & Trust Co., for which Mitchell served as a board member, said Mitchell was always concerned about the bank’s employees.
“He was a very passionate person,” she said.
Shipp said she always felt at home when she shopped at his store because of Mitchell’s relaxed but professional demeanor.
“I count it an honor and a privilege to have known Billy,” Shipp said.
Don Metzmeier’s first encounter with Mitchell was in Sunday school, where Mitchell taught his class. Years later, as a college student on Christmas break, Metzmeier worked at Mitchell’s store. Metzmeier said he was impressed by Mitchell’s demeanor and ever-present coat and tie.
“I think that started me being a professional in what you do. I would just watch him deal with people and satisfy his customers. He would never pressure anyone to buy anything.”
Metzmeier also recalls that he bought his first shirt with his own money at Mitchell’s - a bright yellow shirt with a brown collar and white polka dots.
“Billy was a perpetual encourager,” said the Rev. Jim Murphy, pastor of Bethel First Presbyterian Church. “He was always interested to hear about what was going on in your life. He always had a smile on his face.”
A few years ago, during a trip to Bowling Green with Mitchell to visit Mitchell’s brother, Lynwood, in a nursing home, Murphy showed Mitchell a watch he had bought for himself on eBay. The watch, Murphy said, had caused quite a stir with his wife.
Mitchell defended Murphy’s purchase saying, “I believe every man should have a few things he’s proud of.”
At the time, Murphy thought Mitchell’s statement was a bit of wisdom just for him. He later realized that the phrase was likely uttered often at Mitchell’s store.
“Anyone that has met Billy probably recognizes that their life was better and blessed by having met him.”