Richard Mitchell’s Memorial Service



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FEBRUARY 19, 2003, 7:00 PM

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To every thing there is a season, and a time to
every purpose under heaven…
A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to
Mourn, and a time to dance…
Ecclesiastes III

Welcome: Edward Wolfe

Prelude in E major, J.S. Bach,
Bertram Greenspan, Violin


Nathan Carb
Wade Currier
Terry Donohue
James Haba
Michael Kelly
John Roch
Timothy Viator
Edward Wolfe

Invitation to all others who wish to speak.

Scherzo Allegretto from Sonata in B major, Opus 147,
Franz Schubert, Marilyn Currier Rabbai, Piano

Everyone is invited to gather for a light repast in the hallway
behind the recital hall at the end of the celebration.

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Richard Mitchell was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Scarsdale, New York. He received his higher education, for a brief time, at the University of Chicago, where he met his wife, Francis; then at the University of the South, Sewanee, Tenn., where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa; and Syracuse University, where he earned his PhD. in American Literature. Dr. Mitchell came to Glassboro State College in 1963 and retired in 1991, but continued to teach part-time until last fall. He is survived by his wife, Francis, and daughters Amanda Merritt, Felicity Myers, Sonia Armstrong and Daphne Keller, as well as five grandchildren.
In addition to his reputation as a masterful lecturer, and extraordinary teacher, Dr. Mitchell was a prolific and well known author. He first gained prominence as the writer, publisher, and printer of The Underground Grammarian, a newsletter that offered lively, witty, satiric, and often derisive essays on the misuse of the English language, particularly the misuse of written English on college campuses. Many of the essays have been collected and are still in print. Dr. Mitchell went on to publish four books: Less Than Words Can Say, The Graves of Academe, The Leaning Tower of Babel, and The Gift of Fire. As one of our colleagues from the Physics Dept. stated when introducing Dr. Mitchell in the late 80’s, “He has done more to advance the reputation of Glassboro State College than anything since the Lyndon Johnson/Aleksei Kosygin Summit Conference of June 1967.”

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The Richard Mitchell Scholarship will be awarded annually to an English major who most nearly exemplifies Dr. Mitchell’s daring, audacity, originality, and enthusiasm.

The Richard Mitchell Memorial Scholarship Fund
The Rowan University Foundation
201 Mullica Hill Road
Glassboro, New Jersey 08028

Enlcosed is my check, payable to The Richard Mitchell Scholarship Fund




Testimonials and Emails to The Underground Grammarian website:

Dr. Nathan Carb: He was, simply put, the most intelligent man I’ve ever known. I looked to Shakespeare for quotes to use at this service, and I’ve come up with two. The first is from Antony and Cleopatra, and describes Cleopatra, “Age cannot wither [him], nor custom stale / [His] infinite variety. (2.2. 245 – 246). The other is from Hamlet. Hamlet is speaking about his father, ” ‘A was a man. Take him for all in all, / I shall not look upon his like again.” (1.2. 187 – 188).

Dr. James Haba: Mitchell admitted he “committed poetry” sometimes and that Mitchell considered poetry a crime “a little worse than shoplifting” but admitted that he did commit this crime occasionally.

Sandy Norcross: I went to Dr. Mitchell’s memorial service last Wednesday. It was well attended in spite of bad weather. Three of his four daughters were there, most of the English department, many of his prior students, (I was one of them), and, of course, his widow, who looked remarkable well considering she has had recent surgery for cancer. The mood was upbeat and all of the speakers had many humorous stories to tell. If you need a copy of the program, I would be happy to send one. A scholarship fund has been started in Dr. Mitchell’s name. I did not see one tear, and yet everyone there had been touched by Dr. Mitchell’s writing, teaching, and friendship. What I found most interesting were six poems that were written by Dr. Mitchell and read to us by Dr. Haba. I did not realize that he wrote poetry. Four were apparently published twenty years ago. I am trying to find a copy of them.

He was brilliant, a member of Mensa, and the most interesting, albeit scattered, eccentric teacher I ever witnessed. He would jump from one topic to another, depending, I think, on what was going on in his life at the time. There was no rhyme or reason to his lectures. He explained that he didn’t come to class for us, but rather, for himself. He learned through us. He was older when I was in class with him. His publication “The Underground Grammarian” and his nights on the Johnny Carson Show were well behind him.

Dr. Mitchell loved his dogs – Komondors. He brought one to our first class one semester. A young man abruptly left. He explained that he shouldn’t have brought the dog. The student was Muslim, and he was upset that he had offended him.

Dr. Mitchell was an amusing storyteller. One afternoon in a seminar class he announced that he was going to tell us the most important thing we would learn from him this semester. With pens and notebooks ready we waited. “If you ever take your dog in the car with you, it should be crated. In the event you are in an accident and are injured, your dog may have to be put down by the police because the dog may try to protect you and not let anyone near you. Also, you should accelerate when entering a curve, not brake” ?!? Every class was similar to this as you never knew what he would say or what direction the class would take. Of course we talked about literature too: “Welty was a much better writer than Faulkner” and so forth. All male students tried to take Dr. Mitchell’s class during the Vietnam War because he gave them A’s regardless if they ever attended class. His disdain for war was palpable. He made reference once that his father and his father’s friends profited from the war. Dr. Mitchell smoked. He rolled his own cigarettes, in class, leaving a trail of tobacco on the conference table.

Toni Calvello: I was Richard Mitchell’s student from 1983-1988.  He was my advisor and considered me “his” student.  I took many classes with him during that time.  The most important thing  he ever said to me was, “Gollatz, I’ve known you for many, many years.  I knew you before you were even born, did you know that?”

I still remember so much about the time spent with him, but what stands out most now, years later, is the way he instigated me. I used to write very ornery papers.  He told the whole class one time that I was “very outspoken, not outspoken enough, and that I just didn’t know that yet.” He was always trying to bring out the rebel in me, and then he would laugh with glee.  He was very bad!

Dr. Mitchell had very bright, blue eyes that shone like diamonds and was well loved by many, many people. He is truly missed.

Charles O’Connor: I was saddened to learn that he had died. For many years my father was his doctor (no blame due there–my father died years ago), and I was privileged to meet Dr. Mitchell. When I was in my feckless 20s and wanted to be a writer, he gave me the best advice I ever received. He said that since my father was a doctor and surely had money, I could concentrate fully on writing as there was no need for me to have a job. (Dad was not amused.)

Current student: The class was early; I was late. I went into Dr. Mitchell’s office after class. Mitchell looked up at me and said, “You know right from wrong don’t you?”

I replied, “Yes.”
Mitchell said, “Then do it.”

I miss him.



The Philadelphia Inquirer (Weds. Jan 1, 2003):

Richard Mitchell, 73, language gadfly

By Kristin E. Holmes
Inquirer Staff Writer

Richard Mitchell, 73, a retired English professor at Rowan University known for his witty and acerbic writings on the inadequacies of American educators, died of complications from diabetes Friday at his home in Pitman.

Dr. Mitchell’s satiric dressing-down of teachers and professors gained him a national following that included commentator George Will, newsman Edwin Newman, and Johnny Carson.

A professor of classical and Western literature, Dr. Mitchell used his newsletter, the Underground Grammarian, to expose the linguistic crimes of educators he said were paid to know better.

“Imagine, $38,000 for a man who can’t make his verbs agree with nouns. What boobs,” he said in a 1983 interview with The Inquirer.

In his books and essays, Dr. Mitchell skewered teachers, professors and administrators with sarcastic humor, but he was serious about the effect that ill-prepared and incompetent educators have on young students.

“He thought that what you write implies how you are thinking,” said his wife, Francis McNeily Mitchell. “If your writing is stupid, then your thinking may be all muddled up.”

Dr. Mitchell stepped into his role as commentator on the English language in 1977 when he began distributing the Underground Grammarian by hand at Glassboro State College, now Rowan.

Using hand-set type and a 19th-century printing press in his basement, Dr. Mitchell produced an irreverent publication that listed the linguistic offenses of deans and professors who Dr. Mitchell said wrote “like apes.” He quoted from memoranda written by educators, listing names, positions and sometimes salaries.

Dr. Mitchell had joined the school’s faculty in 1963 after earning a doctorate in American literature from Syracuse University and teaching college English in Defiance, Ohio. He retired in 1991 but continued to teach some courses.

Before the Internet, Dr. Mitchell and his wife mailed copies of his monthly newsletter to nearly 6,000 subscribers. He wrote four books on language and education, including Less Than Words Can Say and The Graves of Academe. He appeared on The Tonight Show with Carson several times.

In addition to his wife, Dr. Mitchell is survived by daughters Amanda Merritt, Felicity Myers, Sonia Armstrong and Daphne Keller, and five grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held later.