Remembering Justin Mitchell

I just got word that my good friend Justin Mitchell is dead. A lot of people in Arkansas politics knew Justin. He held several positions with the Democratic party throughout the years. His death leaves a lot of us shaking our heads as it cuts short a life that contained much promise.

I met Justin when we were at Arkansas Tech. I was a paid poll worker for the Pope County election Commission. I got the job because I was volunteered for the Pope County Republican Committee and knew the Chairman, Ina Martin, well. Likewise, Justin was a worker with the Democratic Central Committee and a good friend of their chairman, Dale Brown.

The job wasn’t glamorous. We moved and set up tables and voting boxes for elections. After that first election, we sat on the curb outside the courthouse and dipped Skoal as we waited on the returns to be tabulated. We joked and laughed, these two young activists on opposite sides of the fence, so much alike and so dissimilar.

We both loved Sinatra and good Scotch. I can’t remember who won the election. When we left, he gave me a crooked smile and stuck his hand out. I stuck mine out and we shook hands. As soon as I grabbed his hand, he started rubbing his pinky nub in the palm of my hand and gave me an ornery grin with Skoal all in his teeth.

Justin ended up in my fraternity and we became good friends. He had some inherited money and bought a cabin cruiser to drive around Lake Dardanelle. One Fourth of July, we took the boat out to watch the fireworks over the lake. We may or may not have been drinking beer. But in any event, Justin ran the boat aground on a sand bar in the river channel.

It was dark, and other boats were whizzing by. But Justin wouldn’t ask for help. Instead, he climbed down the side of the boat and onto the submerged sand bar and pushed us off. I was having a fit, scared to death he would get sucked up in quicksand but he just hopped over the side and pushed us off.

Justin and I had the same political argument a million times. We knew we wouldn’t change each other’s minds, I guess we did it just because we could. We’d sit on his boat, dipping, listening to Sinatra and arguing. Sometimes we’d talk about literature, girls or cars, but mostly we’d argue politics.

Of course, as happens when you get older, you don’t have as much interaction with your college buddies. Justin and I would always make it a point to get together for lunch every few months. Last summer Justin and I had lunch at Larry’s Pizza. We sat and talked politics for longer than our lunch hour.

Justin was excited about Barack Obama. His boss, Pat O’Brien, the Pulaski County Clerk, had stepped out for Obama when everyone else in Arkansas was backing Hillary. I knew Mr. O’Brien had political ambitions and I thought he was a smart fellow for having my friend Justin as an employee. Justin wasn’t a policy wonk but he had a good sense of what the public would buy. He was a staunch Democrat and pretty danged liberal, but he wasn’t afraid to admit when the Democrats were wrong.

The last time I saw Justin was at our friend Jazz Johnston’s wedding. Justin and I talked politics and it irritated about everyone that was around us. We promised to get together for lunch soon but we never did. I have no excuse to why I didn’t.

Justin was a man that was full of life…and at times vinegar…and he rarely would let me get in the last word. For once I have the last word and it doesn’t feel good. I’d rather have my friend.

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23 thoughts on “Remembering Justin Mitchell

  • Sorry for your loss, I know what it means to lose a great friend. Will keep you in my prayers.

  • I am writing this comment with tears flowing!! I went to high school with Justin. I remember he was so funny, but yet so smart and kind hearted. I moved away after highschool, but kept tabs on him and a few others. I was not suprised about how successful he became. I am in such shock.

  • Baba O'Riley

    Many of us have lost good friends to death. And, all of us shall at one time in our lives. It never gets easier. But, your words show that friends are worth it all. His family, and you, are in my prayers…

  • He’ll be missed for sure!!

  • Mike Norman

    Though we dont know each other, we shared a common friend in Justin. Your article reminds me of the many discussions we had with me being a Republican and him being a Democrat. Its dispels the notion that people from opposite sides of isles cant be friends as I called him my best friend for many years. Great article and thanks for taking the time to share it with everyone.

  • AKA Bryce

    I lost a close friend when I was in High School. You never really get over it. I can’t talk about it to this day (20 years later) without getting a lump in my throat. I guess you have about had your fill of losing loved ones. My thoughts and prayers are with you friend.

  • Loretta Gates

    Thanks for your comments on your relationship with Justin. Many of us are grasping for comments or memories and want to reach out and touch someone who also remembers or needs a friendly touch. Justin was the farthest thing from political in high school, though he was a history channel fanatic. He would sometimes spend and entire (school) day watching…ahemmm. I was shocked and pleased when he developed an interest and worked in such a dedicated manner for the Democratic party.

    Since we had a student/teacher relationship, Justin sort of had the habit of concealing his snuff, at least briefly, when we would meet for a conversation. But it never stayed that way, because eventually he would break into that characteristic Justin Mitchell snuff-stained grin, and then we were free to continue debating whatever issue was at hand.

    Prayers and blessings on his daughter, mother, brother and entire family and friends.

  • J Brinegar

    Awful news Cory! Very upsetting. Ive had some great times with Mitchell. Hard to believe Ill never see him again

  • Sean Blackburn

    I am sitting at my desk with a very blank look on my face. This was my fraternity brother and my friend. Justin was in the pledge class when I was the president of Sig Ep at Arkansas Tech. I am presently looking at the paddle that hangs in my office with his name on it, and I will never forget the speech he made when his pledge class presented me with this paddle. After college we bought a house boat together and had many fun times. Justin was present when I met my wife, and I met my wife while on was on a trip with Justin. I haven’t seen Justin in a couple of years, in fact, the last time was at a Razorback game in Little Rock. I can truly say that I was never with Justin without laughing very hard at his very witty sense of humor. This man was so much fun to be with that you always hated to see him leave. I guess now he has left to another place that is out of our control. I know that I will see him again, and I long for that wonderful conversation. I loved this friend and brother, and his memory will hang on my wall and in my heart forever.

  • sam pasthing

    Oh my. Justin Mitchell never met a stranger. What a talented and gifted person. As a famous person once said, “…It is so sad to hear of such a beautiful mind being stilled so soon…”


  • Luther Lowe

    Cory, thank you for sharing. This is terrible, shocking news.

    Justin was outgoing YD Arkansas president during my first convention back about 10 years ago. I’ll never forget meeting him.

    I looked up to him a lot, and he had a great deal of influence in shaping my activism in young democratic politics.

    My thoughts and deep condolences are with his friends and family.

    – Luther Lowe

  • Jayleah Collins

    I went to middle school, junior high, and high school with Justin. He moved to town when his grandfather took over the local bank. He was such an original even back then. We all have such great memories of him….and love to hear more. When news hit his home town yesterday, we all were shocked and tearful. He was a unbelievable person…at some points, even the stuff of legends…at least in Atkins. I loved him as my friend of over 20 years and I miss him. His family and the rest of his friends are in my prayers as we all try to reconcile this loss in our lives. May God Bless You!!!

  • Melinda Willfond

    Justin and I graduated together in ’93. We had a few classes together, he kept me laughing even got me in trooble a few times. We shared a bday, memories, and a lot of great years in school.

  • OMG…what happened?!

  • Mandy Flory

    Thank you for writing this article. What you described about Justin shaking your hand and that grin…is exactly how I remember from high school. We shared alot of good times together. He was the same everywhere he went. I loved that about him. Great memories.

  • Justin could also be a responsible individual (& still have fun). He was appointed a member of the Board for Department of Workforce Education for Arkansas

  • Thank you for sharing this about our mutual friend.

  • Natalie Potter

    Thank you for this article. I am Justin’s Florida Cousin and still can not believe that my “Big Cuz” is gone. It’s hard right now because I want so badly to be home right now with my family. I am praying that things will work out so it’s possible for me to return for the services. Justin was a few years older than me and I used to torment him by following him around like a sick puppy. I wanted to do everything Justin did and used to brag to my friends how cool my “Big Cuz” was. I really did idolize him. I even once tried dipping- he warned me and was obviously trying to teach me a lesson- I fainted and puked- he caught me and rinsed off the driveway. Lesson learned! My Dad once got a great idea when we were younger to tie my Little Red Wagon to a rope and pull us behind his motorcycle in the field. So much fun until the 3rd lap when the wagon tipped over with a much larger Justin landing on little ol’ bitty 4 year old me. I broke my collar bone but refused to say anything until Justin left for the day- I didn’t want to stop playing and didn’t want Justin to get in trouble for hurting me. I passed out from the pain that night when Mom tried to take my shirt off. I got him back though when I hurled his metal matchbox plane toy at his head from across the room- if memory serves me correct- he got a few stitches out of that one. He retaliated by giving me Chicken Pox. Thanks for letting me share- I can not believe he is gone.

  • Loretta Gates

    REQUEST: I am collecting photos of Justin to put into an album for Libby. If you have any good ones, old or new, please send a copy to:

    Loretta Gates
    2039 King Circle
    Conway, AR 72034

    I will wait a few weeks before delivering, so, get those copies, but don’t worry if it takes a few days.

  • More comments about Justin can be made on the Lemley Funeral Service website. This is where his arrangements were made. Also on Justin’s or on my facebook page there is a link to a memory book being made for Justin’s daughter Libby…my email is jayleah@yahoo.com if you need help finding the links. I think it would be a wonderful tribute to our great friend if we could leave behind lots of stories and photos about him.

  • Wow…
    I just heard about Justin’s passing & I’m dumbfounded and saddened. He was a good friend and a joy to be around. Though we’d lost contact over the past several years, I thought of him often…He was a great advisor to me when I was student body president at Tech (despite having originally run against me). He always forgave me for joining the “other” fraternity…and was always up for a long political debate over a steaming bowl of Stoby’s cheese dip. I hope he would be proud of the fact that my politics have become very much in line with his since we last spoke. As it turns out…he was right all along 🙂 I’ll miss Justin…and I will always regret not picking up the phone to say hello when it crossed my mind to do so.

  • Tim Smith

    He OD two days after he left rehab for opiod dependance. RIP Justin

  • Tonya Dingler

    I worked with Justin for the county. I hope his soul found peace. I am truly sorry for yours & the many other souls he touched. He was a terrific person to work with.


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