One in a series of occasional portraits of people COVID-19 has taken from us.

Arthur Mitchell was a dedicated industrial arts teacher and renowned craftsman who designed and built one-of-a-kind pieces of handcrafted furniture, including his own casket.

Arthur Mitchell Courtesy Jaime Ranger

The casket sat in his workshop for several years until Thursday, when Mitchell was buried in a family cemetery on his property in Temple, a Franklin County town just outside Farmington. He was 86.

Mitchell died from complications of COVID-19 at Maine Medical Center in Portland on May 6, according to the state Medical Examiner’s Office. He died two months after receiving his second dose of the Moderna vaccine, according to a vaccination record card provided by his family.

Arthur Mitchell’s vaccination record card. Courtesy Mitchell family

Such cases are extremely rare. Mitchell is one of only four Mainers to die from COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

As of May 14, the state has recorded 319 cases of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated Mainers. That means about 99.95 percent of all Maine people (640,361) who have received their final dose of vaccine have not gotten COVID-19, according to the state statistics.

“No vaccine is 100 percent,” said his daughter, Margaret Mitchell Staggs. “I know his body had been through a lot with an infection he had prior to COVID. Maybe he was fighting more than we knew.”

Mitchell was a teacher for 25 years. He spent the bulk of his career teaching industrial arts at Mount Abram High School in Salem Township. He taught a variety of subjects, including drafting and math. He also coached the school’s baseball and track teams. His daughter said Tuesday that he was a strict, but fair teacher who was respected by the students.

“The students liked being around him,” she said. “He was a very engaging teacher. A lot of students who took his classes didn’t necessarily like school. He had so much knowledge. He liked to see people learn and discover new things. He always loved a challenge.”

Arthur Mitchell and his wife, Donna. Courtesy Jaime Ranger

He was married to Donna Mitchell for 56 years. Both teachers, they met in Connecticut at a new-teacher orientation. They were married in a small log cabin chapel in Rockwood at Moosehead Lake in July 1964. They raised four children and lived in Temple for the past three decades.

Mitchell was an avid outdoorsman who had a passion for fly-fishing. He tied his own flies and loved wading downstream, fishing for brook trout. In recent years, he fished by canoe throughout the Temple area.
“It wasn’t just about the catching. It was the experience and the relationship to nature. Fly-fishing was his religion,” his obituary said.

Mitchell had a lifelong passion for woodworking. His daughter said he became interested in woodworking when he was 12 years old and eventually took on challenges that ranged from building a violin to building his own casket.

He was an internationally known craftsman who designed and built pieces of handcrafted furniture with traditional old-world joinery. Following his retirement, Mitchell and his wife fulfilled a longtime dream of starting a business, W.A. Mitchell Furniture Makers, in a workshop next to their home in Temple.  

The Mitchells worked together to produce his one-of-a-kind pieces of fine furniture and run their company with integrity and passion.
“It was their dream,” Staggs said. “Dad did the designing and building. My mom did the office work and orders. They were together as much as they could be and they enjoyed that.”

Mitchell sold his business. His designs are now sold at W.A Mitchell Chairmakers in Farmington. Staggs said her father stayed involved in the business and spent time at the workshop mentoring the guys who worked there.

Mitchell faced some health challenges this past winter. He received his second dose of the Moderna vaccine on March 8. He woke up on March 24 feeling ill and went to the hospital by ambulance. Staggs said her father developed an infection at the site of a shoulder replacement surgery he had more than five years ago. Doctors removed the hardware from his surgery and sent him home with antibiotics.

On April 22, Mitchell became weak and was transported to the hospital, where he tested positive for COVID-19. Staggs tearfully reflected on their last conversation.

“He said, ‘I know I’m sick, but I feel really good. I’m not in pain.’ He says, ‘I know people don’t always do well with a ventilator, but I’m going to fight like hell and either it’s going to work or it’s not,” Staggs recalled. “That’s who he was.”

Mitchell died on May 6 and was buried in the casket he built and was interred in a family cemetery on his property in Temple. Staggs said the guys her father mentored at the workshop dug his grave by hand. She started to cry.

“How do you say thank you for that,” Staggs said. “My dad was a very humble person. I don’t think he realized what he meant to all the people in his life.”

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