Published: January 25, 2013
William Moore Mitchell, Jr., 92, of Morrilton, passed away January 22, 2013. He was born November 14, 1920 to William Moore Mitchell Sr. and Mary Hemphill Mitchell and became a lifelong resident of Morrilton. Billy attended Hendrix College and graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1942 with a BS in Agriculture. At the university he was a member of Kappa Sigma. He spoke fondly of those years and his ability of not letting classes interfere with his education. He especially enjoyed the school dances which frequently featured the famous big bands of that era. He often regaled his family with tales of trips to Fayetteville in his Model A Ford with at least one person freezing in the open rumble seat.
As with many young men of that era, Billy was fascinated with flight. Money was hard to come by in the thirties but whenever he could he would pay for flying lessons at nearby airfields including Adams Field in Little Rock. When WWII began he enlisted and joined the Army Air Corps. His instructor knew that Billy had more training than most of the new recruits and asked him to take each of the newly minted pilots for a test flight to get a second opinion as to their readiness to fly or as the instructor put it, their likelihood to make it back to base on their first flight. It was on the way to deployment in the Pacific theatre that Billy contracted polio. He spent the rest of the war in the Army and Navy Hospital in Hot Springs. Aided by an iron will inherited from his mother he recovered from the paralysis.
Back home in Conway County where his reputation was "just another good boy who fell for the weaker sex", Billy was struck one day by a vision of beauty coming out of a restaurant. He wangled an introduction to "that cute girl". Courtship followed and on March 29, 1946 Marie Pledger and William M. Mitchell, Jr. were married and settled down in Morrilton. Billy went right to work building a home for his wife and himself where they raised their family and lived their lives. His 66 year marriage to his lifelong sweetheart, Marie, ended with her death on January 7, 2013 and he was ready to rejoin her.
Billy was a partner with his father in E E Mitchell Company (later changed to the Mitchell Company), a furniture and hardware store in Morrilton. He was active in civic affairs as a charter member of the Morrilton Lions Club and president of the Morrilton Country Club. He became a member of the board of stewards of the Methodist Church. In 1956 he took over the family farm, Paw Paw Bend, at the foot of Petit Jean Mountain. He farmed along with his right-hand man and extended family member, Herbert (Sonny) Jackson until retiring in the late 80s. In 1965 Billy, his wife and daughters were selected as Farm Family of the Year for Conway County. Billy served on the board of the Farm Bureau of Conway County and at the state level where he set the record as the longest serving board member of the Arkansas Farm Bureau. He also served for seven years on the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission and was active in the Arkansas Cattleman's Association.
Informally "Mr. Bill" was a member of coffee gatherings of other farmers and friends that met in the morning at different times and in different locations over the years. Some of the best stories, jokes, and "lies" were exchanged at these meetings and it was certainly where Billy kept up with local news and enjoyed lots of good laughter. Once a week, after cutting the grass around his home in Morrilton, he would ride his mower to the nearby First United Methodist Church and mow there as well.
Billy and Marie loved to travel; one of the things he liked the most about their adventures in one of their travel trailers was to meet new people. One of his quotes was "there are an awfully lot of really nice people out there". But then Billy never met a stranger and could strike up a conversation with just about anybody swapping stories of past and present adventures.
Advancing years brought difficulties for Billy. While he credited polio with saving his life by preventing him from going into battle during the war, it exacted a heavy toll during his lifetime as manifest by Post-Polio Syndrome, a gradually progressive loss of function in the nerves damaged by the original polio infection. Still, through strong determination aided by technology he remained mobile until almost the end. Native Arkansan, proud Veteran, devoted husband, loving father, determined survivor, rest in peace.
Billy is survived by daughter Mary Jane Anderson and husband Jim of Plano, Texas; daughter Betty Ann Smith and husband Jerry along with granddaughter Laura-Marie of Jonesboro, Arkansas; sister Jean Mitchell Jernigan of Little Rock, niece Jean McGehee of LR, grandniece Jillian McGehee of Little Rock and grandnephew Mitch MeGehee of San Francisco, California; niece Lue Taff and her husband Harold of Coppell, Texas; niece Bheti Bruton Smith of Little Rock with sons Patton and Chase; step-grandson, Chris Anderson and wife Anna of Double Oak, Texas and their sons Matthew and Nathan; step-granddaughter, Jenny McGuire and husband Larry of San Diego, Calif. and their twins Patrick and Alison; and step-granddaughter, Tracey Meinecke and husband Chris of Solihull, West Midlands, U.K. and son Brooks.
Funeral service will take place Friday January 25 at 2 p.m. in the Morrilton First United Methodist Church followed by graveside services at Elmwood Cemetery. In lieu of flowers the family suggests donations to one of the following: First United Methodist Church of Morrilton, 201 South Chestnut , Morrilton, AR 72110 Conway County Farm Bureau Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 648, Morrilton, Ark. 72110, or http://support.woundedwarriorproject.org. Arrangements are by Harris Funeral Home of Morrilton. Online guestbook: www.harrisfuneralhomes.net.