Former Maryland House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., who died last Thursday at 83, was a longtime champion of Kent County, where he began his political career.
A native of Chestertown, Mitchell graduated from Chestertown High School in 1955 and attended Goldey Beacom College. He served in the U.S. Army. He and his father were real estate developers and farmers in Kent County.
Mitchell served on the Kent County Democratic Central Committee from 1962 to 1966. He was elected as a Kent County commissioner in 1966, serving as commission president and also a term as chairman of the Maryland Association of Counties.
After serving one term as a county commissioner, he was elected to the House of Delegates in 1970 and served for 23 years, including six years as House speaker.
He represented District 36 — Caroline, Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties — in the House, serving as chairman of the Eastern Shore delegation and as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. He was elected House speaker in 1987 — a position he held until he retired in 1993.
After his retirement from politics, Mitchell continued to be a farmer and was the director of public affairs for the Baltimore Gas & Electric Company, as well as an independent lobbyist for Constellation Energy. He was a director of the Second National Bank of Maryland, chairman of the Save Our Skipjacks Task Force, a member of the Maryland Commission for Celebration 2000, and a member of the Board of Visitors and Governors of Washington College in Chestertown.
In 2008, the R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. Kent County Government Center was dedicated to him. Last year, Gov. Larry Hogan named the U.S. Route 50 bridge over the Kent Narrows after Mitchell.
“I thank the Governor and the citizens of the great State of Maryland for bestowing this honor upon me,” Mitchell said during the bridge dedication. “I accept this honor along with my family with humility. I especially thank the citizens of my legislative district, who provided me with the opportunity to represent them in Annapolis for over two decades. Without the steadfast support of friends and neighbors, none of this would be possible.”
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of our 104th Speaker of the House of Delegates, and my good friend, R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. As an Army veteran and distinguished member of the legislature, Speaker Mitchell leaves an indelible mark on our great state,” Hogan said Friday in a prepared statement.
“Speaker Clay Mitchell was a man for whom I had tremendous respect and admiration. He dedicated his life to serving others and will always be remembered as an icon on the Eastern Shore. The prayers of Marylanders are with the Mitchell family during this difficult time,” Hogan said.
Mitchell was elected House speaker after Ben Cardin was elected to Congress.
“Clay Mitchell will be missed. He was a dear friend, colleague and a dedicated public servant. His death is a great loss for our state and the Eastern Shore, which he loved with every fiber in his being,” U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said in a written statement. “I will always remember our debates when I was Speaker and he served as the Appropriations Chair for the House of Delegates. Clay may have described himself as ‘low-key’ but he was tough and provided us with fiscal leadership that left a positive imprint on our state.
“He also was responsible for firmly establishing the University of Maryland Medical System, now the 3rd largest private employer in the Baltimore metro region, as an independent entity and a world-class medical facility. I offer my heartfelt condolences to his family. Our entire state mourns his passing.”
Comptroller Peter Franchot, who served in the House of Delegates with Mitchell, honored the former House speaker in 2016 with the William Donald Schaefer Helping People Award and a Maryland Hero Medallion, plaque and citation.
“Thank you for doing what was right, what was just,” Franchot said to Mitchell at the May 9, 2016, event. “Maryland is a better place for your years of service.”
A viewing will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, June 20, at the Fellows Family Funeral Home, 370 Cypress Ave. in Millington. Funeral services will begin at 11 a.m. Friday, June 21, at the funeral home with interment at the Shrewsbury Church in Kennedyville.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that a memorial donation be made in Mitchell’s name to Compass Regional Hospice, 160 Coursevall Drive, Centreville, MD 21617.