Bob Mitchell, above center, received the Leadership Tri-County Leader of the Year award Monday. He is flanked by his wife Nancy and organization chairman Miles Estes.
Calling him an "unselfish and selfless" champion of progress and transformation in southern and eastern Kentucky, U.S. Congressman Harold "Hal" Rogers (R-Somerset) lauded his former District Director as a well-deserved recipient of the Leader of the Year Award for Knox, Laurel and Whitley Counties during a special banquet held Monday in Corbin.
Bob Mitchell, retired long-time District Director for Rogers, accepted the award on stage at the Corbin Center for Technology and Community Activities with a humble nod to Rogers and a self-deprecating recounting of his prodigious and impressive work for the congressman.
"If you ever selected a leader of the decade, it should be Congressman Hal Rogers," Mitchell said during his relatively short award acceptance speech which was laced with homespun humor and high praise for his former boss.
"It’s been my honor to just kind of tag along," he added. "It’s been a journey. It’s something that I wouldn’t trade for anything."
Mitchell first teamed up with Rogers in 1970 when Rogers ran for Lt. Governor of Kentucky. In 1980, he was instrumental in the 1980 congressional campaign that propelled Rogers to federal office.
From then, until his retirement in 2012, Mitchell was the point man for the Congressman in the Fifth Congressional District. Behind the scenes, he became known, and later revered, as a quiet and effective advocate for development and improvement of the Appalachian counties Rogers represented.
Rogers himself was the keynote speaker during the Leader of the Year banquet Monday, and he used the opportunity to provide insight into Mitchell’s vital role in local politics over the last three decades.
"I feel like a mosquito in a nudist colony," Rogers joked, saying he had been tasked with saying "good things" about his former district chief. "I don’t know where to start."
Rogers recounted how me first met Mitchell when he ran for Lt. Governor in 1979, characterizing him as an eager volunteer. The campaign met with failure, but the duo hooked up again in 1980 when Rogers ran for U.S. House of Representatives and won. He wanted Mitchell to play a larger role in that campaign. Having identified Mitchell as a natural leader with an optimistic outlook, he quickly became a congressional staffer for Rogers and moved up in the ranks to be his most trusted political operator and advisor.
"Over the years, I’ve learned to rely on his judgment, his wisdom, optimism and his natural ability to see through conflicts," Rogers said. "He’s a positive force in a sometimes negative world."
Rogers noted that, when he took office, he was faced with a Appalachian district that was plagued by bad roads, flooding problems, trash and littler, spoiled waterways and few people had city water and sewage. He said Mitchell has been instrumental in turning a lot of that around.
"We’ve had a chance to work together and I think transform our region," Rogers said. "We’ve got a long way to go yet, but I think if you look back when Bob Mitchell started this chore you can see a difference."
Rogers said Mitchell has an uncanny knack for taking difficult problems and finding practical solutions. He credited him for the formation and organization of many of Roger’s signature achievements including the creation of the environmental initiative PRIDE, Operation UNITE, an effort to stem the tide of illegal drug use in eastern Kentucky, Forward in the Fifth, centered on improving education, Tour SEKY, created to foster tourism in the Fifth Congressional District, and the Southeast Kentucky Economic Development Corporation.
"When you talk about leadership, in the dictionary it has a picture of Bob Mitchell."
Though retired, Mitchell is still active in many of the organizations he helped Rogers start. He also remains RogersÕ political campaign manager.
The event served as a fundraiser for Leadership Tri-County – a non-profit organization established in 1987 as an educational program designed to identify potential, emerging, and current leaders from Knox, Laurel, and Whitley counties and to nurture their continued development into the leaders our area needs now and in the future.
Miles Estes, the organization’s President this year, hosted the event. Central Baptist Church Minister Chad Fugitt offered the opening prayer and benediction. About 300 people attended.