May 14, 2011

'Family is quite important to George,' his sister says

By Scott Monroe
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- Over dinner Sunday night, Barbara Atkins says her brother, former Sen. George Mitchell, hinted that he would soon be resigning as the Obama administration's special Mideast envoy.

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Mitchell made his announcement Friday afternoon. Atkins, of Waterville, wasn't surprised.

She said that Mitchell had originally signed onto the job in January 2009 for two years and, at age 77, Mitchell understandably wants to spend more time with his family. That includes Mitchell's wife, Heather, and their children, 13-year-old Andrew and 11-year-old Claire, and many other family members.

"Family is quite important to George; I think that was very paramount in his timing," Atkins said Friday. "He worked very diligently and strenuously for a few years and it did take him away from his family. He set a time limit in the beginning, and that's it. I'm sure someone will replace him who will also work very hard."

Mitchell was born in Waterville in 1933. He grew up in a Lebanese and French Canadian community off Front Street along the Kennebec River, in an area known as Head of Falls.

A graduate of Waterville High School, Bowdoin College and Georgetown University Law School, Mitchell served as Democratic Senate majority leader from 1989 to 1995. After retiring from the Senate, he joined a Washington law firm, served as chairman of the Walt Disney Co. and was appointed by then-President Bill Clinton as special envoy to Northern Ireland, where he negotiated a peace agreement signed in 1998.

He maintains deep roots in Waterville, where his siblings still live: Atkins, as well as John and Paul Mitchell. He also had an older brother, Robert, who died of cancer in 1996.

George Mitchell's older brother Paul, who also lives in Waterville, couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

At his West Street home in Waterville Friday afternoon, John Mitchell had not yet heard the news. He had seen his brother at an event in Portland Wednesday night and George had not mentioned his forthcoming announcement.

Even so, John Mitchell wasn't surprised, especially since any breakthrough in peace talks still seems a long way off.

"Things are so bad in the Middle East now," he said. "He's worked hard, he understands the situation, but there has to be movement on the parties you're trying to bring together."

Despite the apparent gridlock in peace talks, Atkins thinks her brother was able to make progress and she's proud of him. But she pointed to the unfolding unrest throughout the Middle East as an indication that "one never knows what direction things will take."

John Mitchell also thinks his brother would like to spend more time with family and slow down his pace.

A little.

"I'm sure of one thing: he'll keep busy, because he's always been a busy person," John Mitchell said. "And he loves working."

Scott Monroe -- 861-9239

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