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Robert “Bobby” Mitchell

January 2, 1917 – January 25, 2021

Robert “Bobby” Mitchell, passed away peacefully and surrounded by family at his home on Monday, January 25, 2021 in Columbia, NC. He was 104 years old. A life of such length is amazing in itself, but it is the way in which he filled his years that is most admirable. As a most selfless and generous man, he lived each day fully yet simply, glorifying God through his love, work and service to others.

Bobby was born on January 2, 1917 in Askewville of Bertie County to James Grantham Mitchell and Rachel Powell Mitchell. He had three brothers: Otis, Jake, and Vernon. He was very much self-educated, as Bobby left school in the eighth grade to go to work in his father’s sawmill during the Great Depression. His humble upbringing fostered the appreciation he had for resourcefulness, hard work, and frugality.

Bobby, like two of his other brothers, later decided to go to barber school. After graduating in 1937, he relocated to Columbia to begin his new career. In 1942, however, WWII started and he enlisted in the Navy. As a part of his service, he was stationed on a subchaser and a destroyer off the coasts of Japan and the Philippines. In 1945, he returned to Columbia and, with the help of his father and other locals, built Mitchell Barber Shop as it still stands on Main Street today. He enjoyed his long, rewarding career as a barber for 82 years. Despite Bobby’s expertise, as well as inflation, he never charged more than $5 for a haircut.

In 1937, Bobby met the love of his life, Myrtle Davenport, after her father played the role of matchmaker. Bobby quickly fell head over heels for Myrtle and they married in 1939. In 1943, they welcomed their first and only son, Fred, whom he adored. Bobby’s love and dedication to his family was of greatest importance and he and Myrtle shared the most beautiful love story. A marriage of 81 years in which they truly lived out their wedding vows. They were best friends and utterly devoted to one another in sickness and in health until his final day.

Bobby’s work ethic was unmatched. The value he placed on productivity, hard work and service was so much a part of his character. Up until recently, you would still find him working in his barbershop 5 days a week. Or, you might even find him on the roof of his building trying to repair a leak because he was either too frugal or was just confident that he could do it himself (and, to be honest, he could usually fix or build just about anything).

When he was not working at his barber shop, Bobby was likely helping his community. He served as a magistrate of Tyrrell County for 20 years from 1980 to 2000. He was an active member of the American Legion since 1945 and an active member of the Columbia Rotary Club since 1947. Bobby served as Chairman of the Board of Elections for Tyrrell County and he was a member of the Board of Directors of East Carolina Bank from 1981 to 2002. He was also an active member in the Boy Scouts on the local and district level. Whether he was serving his community through some of these organizations or just offering a helping hand to someone in need, Bobby was known for his kindness and giving nature. In 2015, he was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine in thanks for his exemplary service to his community and the state.

Bobby was a man of strong, disciplined faith. He loved God and especially loved his church, Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, where first joined in 1937. He served as the treasurer and maintained other responsibilities for as long as he was able. He loved singing in the choir and the fellowship that the church provided.

Socializing was also of utmost importance to Bobby. Every morning at 5 a.m., you could find Bobby at the Short Stop drinking coffee with his friends. By 6 a.m., he was at the barbershop, which represented the original social network in Columbia. Men around town came in not just to get a haircut or a shave, they came to “shoot the bull,” read the newspaper or play a game of checkers.

Simply put, Bobby was full of life because he had figured out what was important in life: love for God, family, hard work, and service. His beautiful legacy lives on through his family and the many lives that he
touched. He is survived by his wife of 81 years (Myrtle); son, Fred Mitchell (Cynthia); three grandchildren, Jamie Koch, Vann Mitchell (Brandi), Courtney Sauter (Adam); and five great-grandchildren, Molly Holland, Emma Holland, Fletcher Mitchell, Finn Sauter and Claire Sauter.

Bobby’s family wish to thank his community, his church family and especially his wonderful caregivers who helped and loved Bobby so well. Due to COVID restrictions, a private funeral service was held on Friday at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Columbia, NC. A celebration of life will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church.

Arrangements are by Bryan Funeral Service, Columbia.

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