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John Mitchell, 75; environment editor for National Geographic

July 27, 2007|Patricia Sullivan | Washington Post

John G. Mitchell, a retired environment editor for National Geographic magazine who also had been editor of Sierra Club Books and a longtime field editor and writer for Audubon magazine, has died. He was 75.

Mitchell died July 7 in Albany, N.Y., after a heart attack. He was returning to his home in Old Lyme, Conn., from the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks, where he had been visiting a family cottage.

In the last article he wrote for National Geographic, which ran in the October 2006 issue, Mitchell described threats to national parks: the balance of preservation and recreation, air pollution and crowding, energy development in or near the parks, and proposals to outsource or contract jobs previously performed by government employees.

His writing "verged on the poetic," National Geographic Executive Editor Dennis Dimick said of Mitchell, who was the magazine's environment editor from 1994 to 2004.

"He loved celebrating pristine American landscapes, and he felt a need to call to task those who would defile them. He felt it was important that we discuss whether the public stewards of our lands were caring for the public trust adequately."

Writing in 2005 about "our ebullient friend, Populus tremuloides" -- better known as the quaking aspen -- Mitchell asked, "Can anyone imagine preferring the lugubrious roar of a gas compressor to the tintinnabulations of these happy trees?"

He contributed scores of articles to magazines such as American Heritage, Wilderness and Smithsonian, and his work is included in several anthologies.

Mitchell wrote eight books, including "Losing Ground" (1975), "Alaska Stories" (1984) and "Dispatches From the Deep Woods" (1991).

He was a Mellon Fellow at Yale University's School of Environment and Forestry Studies.

John Galvin Mitchell was born in Cincinnati and graduated from Yale with a bachelor's degree in English in 1954.

He started as an assistant at Oxford University Press, then worked as a newspaper reporter, including stints at the Hanford Sentinel and Santa Maria Times, both in California.

Mitchell was science editor at Newsweek for several years in the early 1960s, then began working as a freelance writer and editor.

He was a co-founder of the Staten Island Greenbelt Natural Areas League and, in 1984, helped write a revised open space plan for Redding.

Mitchell is survived by his wife of 53 years, Alison; two daughters, Katherine Mitchell of Piedmont, Calif., and Pamela Mitchell of Brooklyn, N.Y.; a brother; a sister; and three grandsons.

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