Community and sport leader Doug Mitchell dead at 83

Filed in Sport by on July 22, 2022 0 Comments

‘We all know Doug was an inspiration to all who knew him and we will continue to share his legacy each and every day,’ the Mitchell family said in a statement

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A man described as a towering and tireless builder of Calgary and Canada’s sports community, Doug Mitchell, has died.

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Mitchell, who served as CFL commissioner from 1984 to 1988 and was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2004, died unexpectedly and peacefully at his home on Wednesday, said his family.

“We all know Doug was an inspiration to all who knew him and we will continue to share his legacy each and every day,” the Mitchell family said in a statement.

“Doug lived an incredibly happy, accomplished and fulfilled life in his 83 years (and) made an impression on each of us and we find solace in knowing his life was full of joy.”

Those who knew Mitchell agreed his was a life full of accomplishments that benefitted many, mostly in the amateur and pro sports arenas.

“He was one of those rare legends and community builders,” said John Bean, CEO of Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp.

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“Doug was a valuable resource to both Ken King and I in transitioning the ownership of the (Flames) and an unbelievably positive person.”

Mitchell was also a power in Calgary’s legal community as national co-chair of the law firm Borden Ladner Gervais.

Bean said knowledge from that realm and his background in sports complimented each other.

“He would share stories on his decisions he’d make managing a law firm and how they related to decisions made (in pro sports). It’s a business acumen and if you talk about institutional knowledge, that was it.”

Calgary native Mitchell attended Colorado College on a hockey scholarship and played football at the University of British Columbia where he earned a bachelor of law degree 60 years ago.

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There, he met his wife Lois, who served as Alberta’s lieutenant governor from 2015 to 2020. The two were described by many as a “power couple” who have teamed up on a host of charitable endeavours.

Mitchell, an inductee in both the Alberta and Canada Sports Halls of Fame, went on to play briefly in the CFL with the BC Lions and Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

UBC Thunderbirds football head coach Blake Nill recalled Mitchell speaking reverently about the man he played under at that university, Frank Gnup.

“Doug always told me how selfless Frank Gnup was to his players; he gave everything and he told me over and over he wanted to emulate him,” said Nill, who also coached the University of Calgary football Dinos from 2006 to 2014.

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“You saw that with (Mitchell’s) support of the BLG Awards — I was just blown away by how many venues and people he supported,” added Nill, referring to an awards program benefitting amateur athletes.

The Doug Mitchell Thunderbirds Sports Center on the Vancouver campus is named after him.

In a statement, CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie lauded the efforts of his predecessor that he said will live on and recalled speaking with Mitchell as the Calgarian was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame last month.

“We also spoke of building — of doing more and doing better. We spoke of how our league can grow. Doug mightily contributed to our foundation. He would expect us to do all we can to build on it.”

As a representative of the Calgary Stampeders, Mitchell sat on the CFL Board of Governors and is credited with helping restore the team’s luster during lean years earlier in the century.

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And when Calgarians in 2018 turned thumbs down for the city to bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics and the economic downturn at that time, Mitchell found ways to push beyond that to boost the hometown he loved, said charity and business associate Byron Neiles.

“He saw the city looking inwardly and thought ‘we have to lift the pall over the city,’” said Neiles, who co-chaired the Global Business Form with Mitchell.

“From a civic perspective that was divisive, he thought it wasn’t someone else’s turn to boost the city, but that’s just how he was.”

One of those efforts was creating the volunteer group Ignite Calgary which promotes entrepreneurship, culture and creativity, while the Calgarian sat on a wide variety of boards.

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Mitchell continued to work even on his last day, said Neiles, visiting the office of his wife Lois.

“He was a formidable force of nature,” he said, adding Mitchell served as a mentor for him when he arrived in Calgary 25 years ago.

“It wasn’t because I asked him, it was his nature,” said Neiles.

Former Alberta government cabinet minister Gary Mar, who’d known Mitchell for four decades, said the man was a deal-maker and a humanitarian “who did much to improve the quality of life for Canadians.”

“He’s impossible to replace.”

Mitchell will be remembered as a champion of sports at many levels, including the Special Olympics, said Olympic speed skating gold medallist Catriona Le May Doan.

“He’ll be missed but he’s created a legacy that will carry on,” said Le May Doan, president of Sport Calgary.

Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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