Mitchell, according to Jonathan Powell, former chief of staff to then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, is “the best example of patience that I have ever come across.” Mitchell is a legendary negotiator who worked to achieve the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland against seemingly impossible odds. For his essential role, Mitchell earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II.
Mitchell, the son of working-class immigrants—his mother was a millworker and his father a custodian—grew up in Maine, majored in history at Bowdoin College and after graduation joined the U.S. Army, where he served as a first lieutenant in the Counter Intelligence Corps. Later, he attended the Georgetown University Law Center at night while he worked as an insurance claims adjuster by day.
Mitchell was executive assistant to U.S. Sen. Edmund S. Muskie and spent a decade practicing law. He went on to serve as U.S. attorney for Maine and as a federal judge.
He was a U.S. senator (D-Maine) from 1980 to 1995, serving as majority leader from 1989 to 1995. On his watch, the Senate reauthorized the Clean Air Act, passed the American with Disabilities Act and facilitated the ratification of NAFTA.
In 1995, President Clinton named him U.S. special envoy for Northern Ireland, a post he held until 2001. In 2007, he led an investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball. From 2009 to 2011, he was President Obama’s Special Envoy to the Middle East.
“In Sen. Mitchell’s long career, he hit on so many hot button issues that are still hyper-salient today, from NAFTA to the Middle East,” said Liam Fine ’17, president of the Amherst Political Union.
Mitchell is the author of four books, including 2015’s The Negotiator: Reflections on an American Life. He lives with his wife, the literary agent Heather (MacLachlan) Mitchell, in New York City. He has three children and one grandchild.