Photo of Ruth Mitchell-Pitts

Ruth Mitchell-Pitts Obituary

Raleigh News & Observer, 2/4/2009

Dr. Ruth Elizabeth Mitchell-Pitts passed away Sunday morning, 1st February, after a sixteen-month battle with cancer. She was courageous and uncomplaining throughout her ordeal. If we did not know already, over these last weeks Ruth continually reminded us of her exceptional spirit, her generosity and strength of mind. She was 57 years old.

Ruth was born 19 June 1951 to the Rev Dr. Thomas Crichton Mitchell and Elizabeth Smith Mitchell in Paisley, Scotland, the Coats & Clark suburb of Glasgow. Ruth's family lived in various cities where her father, a minister of the Church of the Nazarene, held pastoral and, later, teaching posts: Bolton, a mill- town near Manchester; Clapham Junction, the rail hub south of London; and Schaffhausen, Switzerland, a hamlet on the Rhine.

Ruth's brother writes that "as a young girl, she had an enduring nature of kindness, quiet charm and thoughtfulness as well as a sharp mind. There was never a boastfulness, only an appreciation of others she knew and cared for."

As she completed her grade- school education at Belleville School in Battersea, Ruth won an all-London scholarship to Grey Coat Hospital, the girls' school in Westminster. While at Grey Coat, among other activities, Ruth earned a prized lifeguard certificate. As a soprano in the school choir, she sang in mass musical performances in Westminster Abbey.

Arriving in the US in Summer 1969, Ruth eventually earned a B.Ed. in French and an M.A. in West European Studies, both at Indiana University-Bloomington, and a Ph.D. in political science at UNC- Chapel Hill. Her M.A. thesis explored the role of evangelical chapels in the nationalist movement in Wales; her Ph.D. dissertation defined norms in the British House of Commons, where Ruth was a research assistant in the summers of 1987 and 1989.

In the early 1980s, as her family became established in Raleigh, Ruth took part-time employment teaching first at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women and later in the Wake Technical Community College evening GED program at Broughton High School. At Broughton, she helped students young and old to reach a cherished goal. By the time she completed her PhD, she had taught political science at NCSU, East Carolina University, UNC-Greensboro, and UNC-Chapel Hill.

In 1992, Ruth accepted a position as one-fourth-time Program Coordinator of the fledgling Center for European Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill. Over the next sixteen years, in collaboration with energetic and innovative colleagues, she helped to build the Center to one of the top five European Studies Centers in the United States. In the process she was promoted quickly to full time and eventually to the position of Executive Director of the three European studies programs she helped create. She won consecutive and concurrent US Department of Education and European Union grants to support the Center's mission of faculty and student research and promotion of European studies in North Carolina and nationwide. She led the creation of two programs to benefit Europeanist students: the Contemporary European Studies major for UNC-Chapel Hill undergraduates and the Trans-Atlantic Masters program (TAM), a master's degree involving coursework in the US and in Siena, Madrid, Berlin, Paris, Bath, Prague, Amsterdam or Barcelona. Ruth was devoted to her immediate colleagues, particularly the Center's staff, favoring their professional and personal development even in the crush of workaday tasks. In recognition of her services to European studies, Ruth will receive the European Union Studies Association's public service award at the group's annual meeting in April 2009.

Beyond her professional pursuits, Ruth was an olympic-class home decorator and champion furniture- rearranger. On a given Saturday, she might re-upholster chairs, paint the dining room or sew living-room curtains. She made exquisite bread, fried oysters, corn chowder and red-pepper soup. She loved British detective novels. She never tired of the serial 'As Time Goes By'. She knew by heart many Wesley hymns and sang them beautifully. She collected eccentric old china, displaying multiple sets simultaneously in her home. A beach person, she gasped at each first glimpse of the sea.

Family lore has it that Ruth's father was tending roses the morning that baby Ruth arrived. Ruth also loved gardening but was known for her no-nonsense approach. She often said, 'We give our plants a talking to when they reach here. It's do or die. Either they thrive or we yank them out.' In the springtime before her final illness, Ruth single- handedly overhauled her 'front garden', designing new beds, plotting a pea-gravel path, and making friends with Mexican petunias, a fluorescent blue delight.

Though sometimes willful with bedding plants, Ruth was nonetheless a loving and devoted wife, mother, and 'Nana'. Besides her husband Brent, also of Raleigh, Ruth is survived by daughters, Francesca Maria (Marlon) Morgan, New Hill, and Anna Elizabeth (Tim) Heule, Apex; granddaughter, Rhiannon E. Bell, Raleigh; Ruth's mother (Lesmahagow, Scotland); brothers, James Mitchell (Plymouth, England) and Ian Mitchell (Vauvert, France); and an aunt, Mabel Silverman (Melbourne, Australia), among other relatives.

The family appreciates so much the cards, letters, prayers and expressions of goodwill from Ruth's friends and colleagues in the Triangle and all over the world. To settlers on our stretch of Mayview Road, thank you for the meals and words of encouragement. To the Hayes Barton United Methodist Church, especially Pastor Clayton and the members of the JOY Class, our deepest gratitude for your prayers, your concern, and your meals.

The family is grateful also for compassionate care received at the Rex Cancer Center and, on various occasions, at Rex Hospital. To everyone who cared for Ruth or cheered her there, we offer heartfelt thanks. We are indebted to Dr Kenneth Zeitler who led us through the medical maze, adding many excellent or 'pretty good' months to our life together. How can we thank the handsome young orderly at Rex Hospital who appeared one day to trolley Ruth to her next stop, to sing so sweetly to her, and to assert, 'I just know today's report will be good'? Dr Linda Orlasky, thank you for your loving care for Ruth. The family also thanks Hospice of Wake County for the blessing of having Ruth at home for her final weeks.

Final arrangements are by the Cremation Society of the Carolinas. Ruth's family is planning a memorial service for her, to be held in spring. Meanwhile, condolences may be sent via email to

In lieu of flowers, Ruth requested that donations be sent to Hospice of Wake County or to the Ruth Mitchell-Pitts START (Student Travel and Research Term) Fellowship (Acct no 10-5555).

For the latter, mail to:
Daniel Lebold, Office of Development for Global Education
FedEx Global Education Center, CB# 5145
301 Pittsboro Street
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-5145

The LORD bless you and keep you:The LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you:The LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. (Numbers 6, RSV)

Dear Ruth, we love you so.