“He thought Rock Hill heaven on earth”: Barre Mitchell, community advocate, dies at 73

Rock Hill and York County lost one of its most fierce advocates for young people, culture, and the arts Saturday, with the death of Barre Mitchell. Mitchell was 73.

A decade after a kidney transplant, Mitchell died from complications from renal disease, said his wife of 43 years, Gilda Mitchell.

“Barre thought Rock Hill was heaven on earth,” Gilda Mitchell said. “He loved this community with all his heart. He gave so much of himself, and loved every minute of it. He thrived on serving people and never wavered in his desire to help.”

In the past eight years after his retirement from Bowater (now Resolute Forest Products), where he was the company’s “face” in the community as spokesman and director of technology, Mitchell became even more involved in York County’s arts and nonprofit communities. He was elected president of the Arts Council of York County Thursday night after stints over the years as president and other positions. Mitchell was an advocate for public art and generally making the city, especially downtown, vibrant and electric.

“Barre Mitchell was a great advocate for not just the arts, but Rock Hill and York County,” said Debra Heintz, executive director of the Arts Council of York County. “This is a great loss for our community.”

Mitchell, originally from Wilmington, N.C., and a graduate in pulp and paper science at N.C. State, is survived by his wife Gilda, and their daughter, Margo. His legacy includes everything from the paper that Bowater printed for the world’s magazines to ballets in Rock Hill and scholarships for kids to go to college. Barre Mitchell came to Rock Hill to make paper, but stayed for more than four decades to make life better for the people who lived here.

Mitchell came to Rock Hill to work at the Bowater paper mill in Catawba. He soon became involved in dozens of civic and community projects, ranging from years of service with the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. to years as a local board member with the the American Red Cross and Piedmont Healthcare System. He served on the board of the Minority Scholarship Foundation of Rock Hill and Fort Mill, and was a part of the Rock Hill school district’s foundation. The York County Regional Chamber of Commerce gave him a lifetime achievement award.

Mitchell was a driving force behind the Arts Council of York County’s Community Performance Center on Main Street in Rock Hill. The center hosts concerts and is home to the York County ballet and Rock Hill Community Theater. The theater is an integral part of Rock Hill’s focus on renewing downtown as a destination for culture and the arts.

Mitchell was an accomplished snow skier, and scuba diver.

“It is because of Barre Mitchell that we have our performance arts center,” said Sandy Johnson, immediate past president of the arts council. “But his whole life showed what it meant to give back to a community, to pay it forward to the next generation. The best way to learn about life was to watch Barre Mitchell live life.”

A memorial service is planned for 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Community Performance Center, 249 E. Main St. Rock Hill.

“It seemed that the center that Barre loved would be the right place for people to gather and remember what he did for the place he loved,” Gilda Mitchell said.