Longtime religion professor Carlton T. Mitchell (’43) remained devoted to his alma mater long after he retired in 1991. As president of the University’s Half Century Club — for alumni who graduated 50 or more years ago — he encouraged alumni to remain active and welcomed them back to campus every fall.
Mitchell, who died Jan. 30 in Winston-Salem, is being remembered for his service to the University as a professor, alumnus and volunteer leader. He was 92. A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. on Feb. 16 in Wait Chapel. He is survived by two daughters, Grace Mitchell and Betty Morgan; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His wife, Miriam, died in 2000. He was also predeceased by a son, John Robert Mitchell.
Mitchell joined the faculty in 1961 and taught American church history, religious education and the psychology of religion. When he retired in 1991, he was recognized as “a great friend whose sound judgment and good humor exemplify the intellectual vitality, compassion and faith that fulfill Wake Forest’s mission.”
He enthusiastically served as president of the Half Century Club until stepping down several years ago for health reasons. Bob Mills (’71, MBA ’80), associate vice president for University Advancement, recalls having Mitchell for classes in Old and New Testament and, years later, his service as a volunteer leader. “That deep, deliberate, precise voice of his still rings in my ears. And in his retirement, if it had been possible for someone to be our eternal president of the Half Century Club, he would have accepted the job happily.”
Professor Emeritus of Religion Fred Horton remembered Mitchell as a great friend and a strong department chair. “He was a very straight-forward guy and a defender of academic freedom.”
Mitchell served as a chaplain with the U.S. Navy at the close of World War II and saw duty again as a chaplain with the Marines in Korea. He retired as a commander in the Navy Reserves in 1970. He was very proud of his service, Horton said. “His experience as a chaplain left him surprised at nothing. He had seen it all before and knew how to handle it. He was a stabilizing influence and kept the department working together during changing times.”
Mitchell also directed the religion department’s graduate program; chaired the University’s Ecumenical Institute with Belmont Abbey College; and directed an important lecture series funded by the Luce Foundation in the 1980s. He also served as an interim pastor, revival speaker and teacher at numerous churches.
In his later years at Wake Forest, he became an early and active supporter of the proposed divinity school. Years before the school even opened, he and his wife established a scholarship fund for divinity students, and he remained a strong supporter of the school.
“The divinity school has been a long-time dream of mine,” he once said in an interview. “The scholarship extends what my career has been about.”
A native of Richmond, Va., Mitchell first came to Wake Forest on a basketball scholarship after helping lead Campbell Junior College to a state championship. He was a talented and versatile student who captained the basketball team and acted in theatre productions.
Provost Emeritus Edwin G. Wilson (’43) had remained close friends with Mitchell since they first met when they were both students on the Old Campus. He said he will remember Mitchell most for his strong character. “I can’t say enough about his genuineness and kindness. He was very generous, very fair, an all around good Wake Forest person.”
Mitchell graduated from Yale Divinity School and Union Theological Seminary in New York and received his PhD from New York University. He served several Baptist churches in North Carolina, Missouri and New Jersey before joining the Wake Forest faculty.
Memorials may be made to the Carlton and Miriam Mitchell Divinity School Scholarship Fund, Office of University Advancement, Wake Forest University, P.O. Box 7227, Winston-Salem, North Carolina 27109, or to Salemtowne, c/o Development Office, 1000 Salemtowne Drive, Winston-Salem, North Carolina 27106.
— by Kerry M. King (’85), Wake Forest Magazine