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If you like George Mitchell's story, you might also like:
Ehud Barak,
Ruth Bader Ginsburg,
Mikhail Gorbachev,
John Hume,
Shimon Peres,
Alan Simpson,
Desmond Tutu,
Antonio Villaraigosa and Andrew Young

George Mitchell can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

George Mitchell's recommended reading: The Moon is Down

Related Links:
Mitchell Scholars
Mitchell Center
Mitchell Institute

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George Mitchell
George Mitchell
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George Mitchell Interview (page: 2 / 6)

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  George Mitchell

Do you remember any other books that meant a lot to you?

George Mitchell Interview Photo
George Mitchell: Oh yes. To this day one of the most compelling works of fiction I've read was The Bounty Trilogy by Nordhoff and Hall. Most people think of the book, Mutiny on the Bounty. It later became a movie, and of course is one of the greatest novels ever written based on fact. But it was really part of a trilogy. There were three stories written, one called Men Against The Sea and the other Pitcairn's Island, which traces the effects following the mutiny on the Bounty. I remember reading that in high school and being fascinated by it. I think I spent several late nights reading, with my mother yelling at me to turn off the light and go to sleep and so forth.

So you decided on law school at some point. Was there ever any thought of being anything else than a lawyer?

George Mitchell: Yes.

When I went to college, my goal was to be a college history teacher. I majored in history. And in fact, I made applications to graduate schools to try to get a master's or a Ph.D. in history and get back to a small college like the one I attended, Bowdoin College in Maine, to teach. But then I went into the service. I spent two years in the Army. And my older brother, who was also a great positive influence on me, encouraged me to think about law school, and I said -- well, I didn't have any money. My parents had absolutely no money. My parents couldn't contribute anything to my even going to college. I did that all through scholarships and working. I worked all through college. While in the service, in Berlin, Germany, I met a fellow and we became quite good friends. His name was Charlie McElvy. He had just graduated from Georgetown Law School, and he told me that they had a night program there, and I could work days and go at night. So I applied to that program and was admitted. That's how I happened to attend law school.

What was your work during the day in those years?

George Mitchell: I was an insurance adjuster. I had been involved in U.S. intelligence in Berlin, Germany, while in the military and had worked with a contact with the Central Intelligence Agency office there. And the director of that office liked me and made arrangements for me to have an interview at the CIA in Washington when I left the service. But that took quite a long time. It was a very long process, and I literally had no money, so I had to get a job right away. So I went and read the papers, read the want ads, applied for a job, and was hired all in one day. And I spent that time working as an insurance adjuster and going to law school in the evening, and then when I left law school, I joined the Department of Justice in Washington.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

You can't have slept a great deal during those years of law school.

George Mitchell: Well, I'd become accustomed to hard work.

I worked all through college. I drove a truck in college. I worked in advertising. From my parents, I learned a very strong work ethic, and all of my brothers and sisters all worked from the earliest days of life right through to the present time. So it wasn't really anything out of the ordinary. It was difficult. It was demanding. But I accepted it as part of life.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

What was your earliest memory of wanting to be in public service?

George Mitchell: It happened quite late in my life.

I was not particularly interested in politics as a young man. All through college and law school, my goal was to return to Maine to practice law. I was born and raised in a small town in Maine, Waterville. I enjoyed living there -- still do -- and my goal in life was a fairly specific and focused one of practicing law in Maine. After I graduated from law school, I couldn't get a job with a law firm in Maine. I attended Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., and I went in the evening program. And at that time, there was still somewhat of a stigma associated with what was called night school, and times were tough. But I had done well in law school, and out of the blue, I got an invitation to join the Department of Justice. They have an honors graduate program, and if you finish near the top of your class, you automatically get a job offer. So I got one there, took it. But my goal was still to go back to Maine.

George Mitchell Interview Photo
Then a couple of years later, I received a telephone call from one of the Maine senators, Senator Ed Muskie, who had married a woman from my hometown. He had moved there and practiced law, and he knew of my family. He didn't know me. I had never met him, and I still didn't have any particular interest in politics, but he was looking for someone to join his staff. He wanted someone who was from Maine who was a lawyer to fill a particular need they had, and he offered me the position. I accepted, but I told him that I was doing this to help me get back to Maine to get a job practicing law, and that I took it for a limited time, through his next election. That's what happened. I ended up making contacts through that position that I wasn't able to make previously.

I got a job with a law firm in Portland after a couple of years with Senator Muskie. But by then, my interest in politics had been sparked, through meeting Senator Muskie, through seeing what he did. He eventually became, after my parents, the most influential person in my life, and I learned a lot from him, including an interest in politics and public service. So I was in my late 20s when I first developed any interest at all in politics.

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This page last revised on Sep 21, 2009 10:33 EST
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