The distinguished international career and interesting life of Fresno native Mark Mitchell was cut short by a car accident in the country of Georgia, north of Armenia.
The body of the foreign service officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development was brought home Friday in a flag-draped casket that was saluted by an honor guard as it was unloaded from a plane at Fresno Yosemite International Airport.
The Fresno State graduate visited all seven continents throughout his life.
"He was an adventurer," said his father, Russell Mitchell, "and he made the most of life."
The honor guard and a police escort to a funeral home was organized by Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno).
“Captain Mitchell served our country with honor and distinction, both in the United States Army and as a USAID Foreign Service Officer," Costa said. "A grateful nation can never say thank you enough. We owe him and his family a debt of gratitude. May he rest in peace.”
Mr. Mitchell died May 6 at the age of 58 after a minibus he was riding in crashed while returning home from a weekend trip to a historical site.
Mark Green, administrator of the Agency for International Development, said Mr. Mitchell was a respected leader who was hard-working, dedicated, generous and good-humored. Mr. Mitchell worked at the U.S. embassy in Georgia's capital, Tbilisi.
"In his work, Mark was omnipresent in everything," Green wrote in a memo to staff. "He fought passionately for programs across sectors – from education and rule of law to combating the scourge of the brown marmorated stink bug."
His father, Russell Mitchell, said his son loved working to help people, plants and animals. Mr. Mitchell was inspired to volunteer at an orphanage for chimpanzees after meeting famous primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall.
His long government career began in the Army after graduating from Fresno State with a bachelor's degree in business administration. He rose to the rank of captain in the Army's intelligence branch, then returned to school to earn a master's degree in international relations and a law degree from the University of South Carolina.
He went on to teach parenting classes for inmates through the Federal Bureau of Prisons, then worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency, based out of Washington, D.C., which included service in Africa and Iraq.
Finally, as a foreign service officer, he worked in Brazil, Djibouti and Afghanistan, each for two years, before he began his tour in Georgia in 2015.
Green described Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, and Afghanistan as some of the "most challenging environments." Still, while in Afghanistan, Mr. Mitchell made time to volunteer teaching the local guard force how to speak English.
"During moments of tumult and stress, colleagues report he was often the first to check in and offer help," Green said.
Mr. Mitchell represented the finest qualities of a foreign service officer, Green said. He was "a good and kind man" who was committed to "creating a better world."
Lawrence Salinas, executive director of government relations for Fresno State, said the university was saddened by the loss of the distinguished alumnus.
"Mark leaves a worldwide legacy," Salinas said, "in helping his fellow human beings in a humanitarian fashion by the work that he did to serve others."
Salinas also knows the Mitchell family personally. He was friends with Matthew Mitchell – Mark Mitchell's younger brother – who was killed in a car accident as a sophomore at Fresno High School.
Salinas recently visited their mother, Betsy Mitchell, on Mother's Day after Mark Mitchell's accident.
"She put her arm around me and said, 'Can you believe we are doing this again?' " Salinas recalled. "I said, 'No Betsy, I can't.' "
Family said Mr. Mitchell was close to retirement. He and his husband, Paulo, planned to split their time between a home they owned in Portland and a recently-purchased cattle ranch in western Brazil, where the couple had planted more than 700 trees together.
Russell Mitchell said the lessons of his son's life will endure: "To plan for the future while living each day to the fullest, to always make time for charity or public service, and to make and keep as many friends as you can, for this is an important measure of a life well-lived."
Mark Andrew Mitchell
Born: Dec. 7, 1959
Died: May 6, 2018
Residence: Tbilisi, Georgia
Occupation: Foreign service officer with U.S. Agency for International Development
Survivors: Husband Paulo Mendonca, parents Betsy and Russell Mitchell, sister Melissa Mitchell, and numerous extended family members.
Services: Memorial services were held at the U.S. embassy in Tiblisi, Georgia, and are scheduled at the USAID headquarters in Washington, D.C. Private family gatherings will be held in Portland, Ore., and Fresno at a later date.