Milestones, Obituaries


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WOLCOTT – Anthropologist William E. Mitchell, Professor Emeritus at the University of Vermont, author of “Bamboo Fire,” and “The Witches Hand,” in press, known for his extraordinary fieldwork in Papua New Guinea, died at home in Wolcott, on February 18. He was 95 years old.

Dr. Mitchell collected the most complete ethnology on record of the Wape and Yellow River peoples, living in the bush “tru” amongst the people with his wife, Joyce Slayton Mitchell, and two children, Elizabeth, four years old, and Edward, five years old, in Papua New Guinea, 1970-1972.

His death was confirmed by his daughter, Elizabeth Dix Mitchell, of the Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand. She had arrived in Vermont with her family in May of 2021, to care for her parents during the pandemic.

Bill Mitchell was born on January 8, 1927, in Wichita, Kansas, with his twin sister, Barbara Steg, of Chicago, who died February 5,2022. They zoomed their birthdays with the two families on January 8.

He is survived by his wife of his first marriage in 1959, to Joyce Slayton Mitchell, of Hardwick, and New York City, his two children, Dr. Edward Mitchell, Professor of Linguistics, Macau University, Macau, and Elizabeth D. Mitchell, New Zealand, early childhood educator, and three grandchildren, René of Macau, and Zena and Nikau Tei of New Zealand, and one great-grandchild, Sebastian Tei of New Zealand and his grandchildren of his second marriage in 1989, to New York University anthropologist, Annette Weiner, and her children, Linda and Jon.

In a career of six decades, Mitchell, earned his Ph.D. at Columbia University with anthropologist Margaret Mead. She said of his first field work book, “Bamboo Fire” “…catching this culture from thousands of years out of the past, William Mitchell has written a lovely book.” His second work sight in Papua New Guinea was in Yellow River, Papua New Guinea. It will be described in his forthcoming book, “The Witches Hand,” to be distributed by the University of Chicago Press.

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