Stephen “Steve” Mitchell, Sr., 83
Stephen Mitchell Sr., a longtime Block Island resident, passed away peacefully at home in Narragansett on July 14, 2017.
The son of the late Francis R. and Marguerite Kelly Mitchell, of Block Island and Warwick, Stephen was born in Providence in December 1933, and grew up primarily in Warwick along with his six siblings. The family made a few pilgrimages across the country to Orange County, Calif., for work in the 1940s, and Stephen graduated from Gorton High School in Warwick in 1952. He was a skilled mechanic, and rebuilding transmissions was his specialty. As a young man he enjoyed tinkering with his Model A Fords.
He was also a highly skilled carpenter, a trade he learned from his father, Frank, a native Block Islander who owned a house at the end of Mitchell Lane off Lakeside Drive. The two worked together on numerous projects through the years on Block Island. In later years Stephen worked for island contractors Norris Pike and Denny Heinz.
Stephen lived on the island on and off for more than 30 years, making many friends along the way.
In the summer of 1969, he served as an island police officer under chief Bobby Rose, a job that generated countless stories he entertained friends and family with for years afterward.
He met Gaye Voskamp on Block Island in the late-1970s and they remained lifelong companions, spending 22 years on Block Island before moving to Narragansett in 1999. He loved to play guitar and sing country songs, and would regretfully recount the tale of selling his original gold top Gibson Les Paul in 1964 for $34 — a guitar now worth well into five, and in some cases six, figures.
But beyond his abilities with a hammer, wrench, or guitar, his truest skill was making people laugh. Really laugh. He had a lightning wit and was hard pressed to go three sentences without uttering something usually wickedly clever, though not always repeatable in mixed company. Gaye said he’d missed his calling and should have been a comedy writer in New York. His cousin Adrian Mitchell, when told of a recent Stephen quip, laughed: “He’s still got his fastball.”
And he joked until the end, cracking up his hematologist a day before his passing as he pondered the origin of the platelets he’d recently received.
For a long stretch in the 1980s and 90s, Stephen would take an island tour in his van every evening. Without fail, like clockwork and never altered: from High Street through town, down the Neck, around the West Side, down Lakeside Drive to Mohegan Trail, down Spring Street then back up High Street. It was so regular that Gaye’s sons could rely on his driving by if they found themselves stranded anywhere along the route.
It’s often said, but with Stephen they truly did, break the mold (we can only guess what his comeback for this would be). He was a character, a true island one-of-a-kind.
He’ll be back there soon, joining Gaye on the hill at the Island Cemetery.
“Block Island is where his heart always was,” his son Kelly said.
Stephen leaves behind four children: Stephen Mitchell Jr. of Baldwinsville, N.Y.; Jacqueline Patricio Mitchell of Narragansett, R.I.; Kelly Mitchell of Fayetteville, N.C., and Michael Mitchell of New Preston, Conn.; along with his six beloved grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. He is also survived by three siblings: Mary Murphy, George Mitchell, and Carolyn Thatcher, all of Warwick, R.I.; along with Peter and John Voskamp and Gaye’s granddaughter Annie, whom Stephen was very fond of. He was predeceased by Gaye (2013), and his brothers Gene, Bill, and Bob. He was also married to the late Marguerite Winman Olivastro from 1955 to 1977.
A memorial service will be held sometime in the near future on Block Island.