Crossed over: Artist Mitchell dies four years after crosswalk incident
Less than two months after settling his lawsuit against the Albemarle County police officer who struck him in a crosswalk in November 2007, artist Gerry Mitchell has died.
"The idea of not seeing him again is unimaginable," says friend Jennifer Grant, who stayed with Mitchell over the last week of his life until his death late Saturday night, December 3.
While Mitchell had suffered from AIDS and related complications since the 1980s, his doctors say his health woes were exacerbated by injuries sustained when he was struck as he crossed West Main Street in his wheelchair on November 5, 2007. Community outrage soared with news that pedestrian Mitchell, who'd been crossing with a green light, had been ticketed by Charlottesville police in what many saw as a police cover-up.
News that Albemarle County Officer Gregory C. Davis had been texting during the accident, information that came out through the $850,000 suit Mitchell filed, stoked anger and led to the County's offer to settle in October.
For Mitchell, the settlement was small consolation, says his younger brother, Corky Mitchell.
"All he ever really wanted out of that situation was an apology," says Corky. "He never got that, and that's a sad sign of the times."
If the case thrust MItchell into the spotlight for the final years of his life, it's not what those who loved him will remember him by.
"He had joie de vivre unlike anyone I've ever met," says Corky, describing Mitchell as "always positive," a trait he showed even in childhood.
"When we were little, he had a way of clarifying things that were perplexing for me," says Corky, recalling a family cat that went up a tree and wouldn't come down. "I was very upset about it," he recalls, but Mitchell had a smile and words of comfort. "He said, 'Relax, you ever seen a cat skeleton in a tree? Come on inside, we'll have some Kool Aid. The cat'll come down.'"
Another friend, Angela "Silver Star" Daniel, says Mitchell's buoyant personality lifted those around him.
"Gerry found a way to be happy and joyful through vast number of hardships in his life, any one of which would easily bring a person into despair," she says, noting that "he gave me hope to continue on in the face of any adversity."
In his adult life, art was Mitchell's passion– he created large vibrant works that he described as spiritual visions.
"His artwork sustained him, gave meaning to his life," says Grant, noting that when Mitchell– who has a show hanging at the Jeweler's Eye– became too ill to paint, he decided to end the grueling dialysis treatment he'd been undergoing after being diagnosed with terminal kidney cancer.
"That was a big determining factor for him," she says, "when his bad days became more than his good days."
Both Corky Mitchell and Grant say at the end of his life, Mitchell was comfortable.
"He'd made peace with a lot of things," says Corky, who saw Mitchell for the last time on Thursday and is still struggling to believe his brother, who would have turned 58 on Christmas Day, is gone.
"It's like a light went out," he says.
A memorial service for Gerry Mitchell will be held on Friday, December 9 at 1pm at Trinity Episcopal Church at 1042 Preston Avenue.
1:30pm Dec. 6: Post updated with quotes from Angela Daniel Silver Star and memorial information. –ed.Read more on: Gerry Mitchell