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Saturday, January 27, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Obituary

Naturopathic physician, co-founder of Bastyr University

Seattle Times staff reporter

The valerian had just come into bloom, and even from a mile away it smelled like old shoe leather, Dr. Joseph Pizzorno remembered.

The plant, which is known for its natural properties as a sedative, was part of the reason Pizzorno, Dr. William Mitchell Jr. and one other member of Bastyr's faculty had trekked to British Columbia's Garibaldi Provincial Park that September day in the late 1980s.

And though it was one of many hikes to gather herbs and flowers for use on their patients or in their classes, the smell of the valerian keeps the memory fresh for Pizzorno.

Dr. Mitchell was particularly skilled at herbal medicine, so he was a key companion on such hikes, Pizzorno said. He'll miss those hikes with Dr. Mitchell now that his friend is gone.

Dr. Mitchell, a nationally recognized naturopathic physician and co-founder of Bastyr University, died Tuesday (Jan. 23) at 59 of a heart attack.

Dr. Mitchell's youngest son, Noah, also died Tuesday just a few hours before his father, of a similar heart attack, though it seems the deaths were coincidental.

Pizzorno and Dr. Mitchell, along with two others, founded Bastyr University in 1978. At the time, it was the second natural-medicine university in the country in a field that many didn't consider to be a legitimate part of mainstream medicine, Pizzorno said.

Dr. Mitchell helped legitimize naturopathy through his work as a physician and in various roles at Bastyr, Pizzorno said. Dr. Mitchell was a sought-after speaker on natural medicine and author of books on the subject.

One colleague said he could put people on the edge of their seats with a PowerPoint presentation.

"When we started the school in 1978, natural medicine was not received well by the community," Pizzorno said. "We are now an accepted part of the health-care community, and that's the way it should be."

Dr. Mitchell grew up in the Midwest and began his undergraduate work at Marquette University on a Naval ROTC scholarship. He then transferred to the University of Washington, where he received a bachelor's degree in history, according to a news release from Kenmore-based Bastyr.

He served as an active naval reservist in Vietnam for two years before returning to the Northwest to get an education at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine.

He earned his graduate degree from there, then he went into private practice with Pizzorno, Pizzorno said. In 1978, they decided to start Bastyr University.

Dr. Mitchell went on trial in 2003 after he killed a woman in a drunken-driving accident in 2003. A judge declared a mistrial after a King County Superior Court jury was hung on a vehicular-homicide charge. The charge was reduced, and Dr. Mitchell pleaded guilty to reckless driving and DUI, and was sentenced to serve one year in a work-release program.

The accident weighed heavily on Dr. Mitchell, and it resulted in a lot of remorse and soul-searching, Pizzorno said.

"I think it was tremendously stressful for him," Pizzorno said. It caused him to "rededicate himself to the community."

Pamela Snider was one of the first students to graduate from Bastyr University, and she decided to go there mostly because of Dr. Mitchell, who was in charge of admissions at the time, she said

"I have to say that our whole community, beyond just naturopathic medicine, is just mourning," she said.

Outside of medicine, Dr. Mitchell was a gifted guitarist who was on the cover of Time magazine when he was 16 because he was a private tutor for the owner of a leading guitar company, according to the Bastyr news release. He reportedly paid his medical-school tuition by teaching guitar.

Bastyr is planning a public memorial service for Dr. Mitchell, but it likely won't take place for a few weeks, according to the school. The school recommends checking its Web site, www.bastyr.edu, in the coming weeks for more information.

Dr. Mitchell is survived by his parents, Rachel and William Mitchell Sr.; his brothers, Thomas and Michael Mitchell; his sister, Laurell Macura; his daughters, Rachel Colburn and Dr. Leah Mitchell; his son Saul Mitchell; his son-in-law, Richard Colburn; his ex-wife and good friend Roberta Mitchell; and his grandchildren, David Mitchell and Regan Colburn.

Remembrances can be made to the William A. Mitchell Jr., ND Fund at any Bank of America, or by sending a check to the fund at 518 1st Ave. N., Suite 28, Seattle, WA 98109.

Brian Alexander: 206-464-... or balexander@seattletimes.com

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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