I attended a memorial service for my college friend, R.O. Mitchell, this past weekend. He was 35 years old and was truly an amazing person.
If you were to meet R.O., the first thing you would notice was his size. The man was giant. He stood about 6’7″. The second thing you would notice was his equally giant smile. R.O. was a happy person who loved to learn about people and their cultures. He would ask you all sorts of questions about your background and soak up everything you had to say. He was a sponge when it came to learning about people.
Not only was R.O. an intellectual sponge, he was also a well of knowledge. The man was more than fluent in Spanish, German, and Chinese. Our mutual college friend Ito, who was a native Spanish speaker, would often comment about how R.O. knew Spanish grammar better than he did.
R.O. loved to share his knowledge of foreign languages through teaching. I mean that too; he truly loved to teach. We would have entire conversations about how much of thrill he got by helping others understand that they too could be fluent in another language. Not only did he have a passion for teaching, he was good at it too. I should know, he tutored me through my final semesters of Spanish.
R.O. had two other passions. One of those was ping-pong. As our friend Ito would say, “R.O. was Forrest Gump good!” It’s true. The man was undefeated in the dorm and, I believe, throughout the entire university. R.O. could put more spin on the ball than the best PR agent could spin a news story. And don’t even get me started about the trick shots he would send his opponent’s way…
His other passion was chess. R.O. was literally a chess master. He was the first African American to win the U.S. Junior Open Championship. The funny thing is half of the people at the memorial service, including myself, didn’t know he was a champion chess player. Which leads me to the last great R.O. trait I want to cover.
R.O. was incredibly humble. He wasn’t shy or bashful, he just never felt compelled to brag about his accomplishments. The fact that he reached his goals was good enough for him. He didn’t feel the need to tell anyone else.
I’m going to miss you my friend. Your shining personality, your helpful advice, and your incredible laugh.
God speed good friend.