Thomas Mitchell

[ Age 79 ] Air Force veteran and salesman highlighted Baltimore's place among top paint-making cities in United States.

"He liked to understand how paint was made. He ruined many of his suits ... in the plant," his wife said.

April 01, 2008|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,Sun reporter

Thomas William Mitchell, an industrial paint and chemical salesman who was a founder of a retirees trade association, died of pancreatic cancer Sunday at the Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. The Ruxton resident was 79.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Rueckert Avenue in Hamilton, he attended St. Dominic's Parochial School and was a 1946 Polytechnic Institute graduate. His studies at the University of Maryland, College Park were interrupted by his service in the Air Force in Germany. He later attended the University of Baltimore and played on a semiprofessional football team.

After work at the Graymar office machine business, he began a lengthy career in Baltimore's paint, chemical and pigment industry. He sold Sherwin-Williams, Intercoastal, Farboil, Mineral Pigments and Tenneco Chemical products.

"He wasn't just a salesman," said his wife, the former Carolyn Burroughs, a retired registered nurse. "He liked to understand how paint was made. He ruined many of his suits from being in the plant."

Mr. Mitchell was among the founders of the Old Friends Paint Club, a group of paint-industry workers who wanted to keep up with each other after their employers had merged or left the Baltimore region. He became the group's spokesman and goodwill ambassador.

"Paint making was once a real Baltimore industry. We were maybe the second- or third-largest center in the country," Mr. Mitchell told a Sun reporter in 1998.

The article detailed that he once wrote sales orders for "tank-car loads of battleship gray, barn red and nonyellowing white kitchen enamel."

Mr. Mitchell and his group also represented their trade at Baltimore Museum of Industry functions. At these events, he would relate how Baltimore-made lacquer once coated unlikely objects such as Christmas balls and men's straw hats.

Mr. Mitchell, who entered the local pigments industry in 1955, recalled that a paint salesman could take a room at old Mohawk Motor Inn on Russell Street (near today's M&T Stadium) and call on nearby customers - Athey, Hanline, H.B. Davis, Cadar, Lasting, Lenmar, Marvelite and Baltimore Chemical and Paint in a day. "All those plants were in a belt, fanning out from Southwest Baltimore," he said in 1998.

He also said that Baltimore-made paint wasn't just for porch decks and window sashes. He told of how locally produced paint coated hundreds of World War II Liberty ships made at Fairfield and that the old Western Electric Co. contracted gallon after gallon of rubberized paints for tiny telephone cable wires. Yellow and white safety paint went on streets to mark center lines, he said.

Family members said that Mr. Mitchell enjoyed his role in sales and at social gatherings. He also organized reunions for people who had grown up in Hamilton. He set up golf tournaments and parties. He never retired - his cancer was diagnosed March 12 - and at his death he was still selling surplus chemicals.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 9 a.m. Friday at Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church, 8501 Loch Raven Blvd., where he had been a member.

In addition to his wife of 52 years, survivors include two sons, Steven Mitchell of Perry Hall and Karl Mitchell of Shreveport, La.; two daughters, Michelle Montgomery of Perry Hall and Dolores Slater of Fallston; a brother, Warren Mitchell of Greeley, Colo.; and eight grandchildren.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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