By Nita Johnson
Sentinel-Echo Staff Writer
When Hal Rogers took the oath of office for Kentucky’s Fifth Congressional District in 1981, there beside him was Bob Mitchell.
For more than 33 years, Mitchell served as Rogers’ district director and right hand man, providing ideas, guidance, support, and leadership in tackling many of the problems that plagued Kentucky, especially the southeastern part of the state.
“He made a difference in people’s lives,” Rogers said of his long-time colleague and friend. “He is unselfish and selfless. We need leaders now more than we ever did. Bob Mitchell didn’t care to go across county lines or political lines, using common sense because our people here have common sense. That’s been the history of Bob Mitchell.”
Rogers was the keynote speaker to honor Mitchell, who was presented with the ” William Hacker M.D. Leader of the Year” award by Leadership Tri-County at the Corbin Technology Center on Monday night before a sold-out crowd.
Rogers went on to say that Mitchell’s dedication and leadership qualities are what made him such a positive influence over the well-being of the people of Kentucky.
“There are thermostats and there are thermometers,” Rogers said. “The thermometer reflects what’s going on. The thermostat changes temperature or environment. Bob may be the thermometer, but mostly he’s the thermostat.”
The accomplishments achieved during Rogers’ tenure in Washington were supplemented and enhanced through Mitchell’s dedication, Rogers said. Mitchell played a key role in the development of P.R.I.D.E. (Personal Responsibility In a Desirable Environment), UNITE (anti-drug agency), SKED (Southeastern Kentucky Economic Development), and projects such as the construction of flood walls along the Cumberland River between Williamsburg and Pineville, road improvement throughout the region, installation of water lines to areas once dependent upon wells, sewer projects, and the construction of the Cumberland Gap Tunnel.
Rogers quoted many of Mitchell’s theories, including his comment about the litter and illegal dumps in Kentucky. Knowing that something needed to be done to clean up the area, Rogers said Mitchell came up with his own idea as the two were riding along the (former) Daniel Boone Parkway near Hazard one day.
“He said, ‘You may be disappointed if you fail but you’re doomed if you don’t try,’” Rogers said. “The best description of a leader is that a leader is a dealer in hope. Bob Mitchell has done that for 33 years.”
Mitchell recently retired, although Rogers said Mitchell still provides council from time to time.
“I still get his advice, only now I don’t have to pay him,” Rogers remarked.
Mitchell had his own compliments back to Rogers, citing the many miles they had driven over Kentucky during their years together.
“We’ve drove a million miles and never had a wreck, thank you Lord,” Mitchell said. “We’ve had a lot of fun and meet a lot of people. It’s been a labor of love.”
Mitchell was also presented with two additional honors during Monday’s ceremony. Shannon Rickett, field representative for Congressman Rogers’ office, presented Mitchell with a Kentucky Senate Resolution honoring Mitchell’s accomplishments over his career with Rogers. The Resolution was presented on behalf of State Senator Chris Girdler of the 15th District that includes Adair, Casey, Pulaski and Russell counties.
Donna McClure, field representative with U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell’s office, presented Mitchell with a Congressional tribute honoring Mitchell’s contributions to the state.