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Friends, colleagues pay tribute to 'one of the best,' Mitch Mitchusson
Poulsbo’s Mayor Mitch was remembered Saturday at a memorial service in Sons of Norway hall as a man of bear hugs and bib overalls, who learned his values in the fields of Oklahoma and carried them decades later into elected office.
Richard A. “Mitch” Mitchusson, the city’s longest-serving mayor, was lauded for his compassion and devotion to Poulsbo. He was remembered as a sharp political mover in possession of a wicked sense of humor, one of the city’s greatest ambassadors. He died Nov. 19 at the age of 71.
It was Mitchusson’s big personality and his motivating nature that made him so successful in city government, his former colleagues said. His was a character forged from life experiences that never left him without a story to tell. His hands bore the scars of a plane crash he survived while in the Navy. During Norway’s King Hareld and Queen Sonja’s visit to Poulsbo in 1995, the king and the mayor stole away for a cigarette.
Mitchusson’s character remained intact during difficult times as well. In 2009, he was held briefly in Kitsap County Jail on charges stemming, his attorney Matt Clucas said, from behavioral problems caused by Pick’s Disease. The jail guards took extra care of Mitchusson, who also suffered from cancer, Clucas said.
“They were either all helped by him or knew someone who was helped by him,” he recalled.
As he left jail, Mitchusson offered a friendly list of suggested jail improvements.
“(He) wasn’t in the business of politics or government ... he was in the people business,” said his son, Rick Mitchusson, who led the afternoon of memory sharing and tributes.
More than 150 people attended his service, where Poulsbo lapel pins — a staple Mitchusson was never without and frequently gave away — were divvied up to be given to others in his honor.
“Mitch was one of the best mayors we ever had and those of us who followed knew we had big shoes to fill,” said Donna Jean Bruce, a former mayor of Poulsbo who was appointed to office by Mitchusson when he resigned in 1999. She said he had a knack for remembering people’s names, and remained friends with those he didn’t politically agree with.
Mitchusson was born in Bradley, Okla., where his father was a farmer and county roads employee and his mother tended the fields and house. He was the youngest of three kids, known as Dicky to his family. On his 17th birthday, Mitchusson enlisted in the Navy, which brought him to Kitsap.
He retired as a senior chief yeoman in 1975 and joined the Poulsbo Public Works Department. Eventually, he became head of the department.
Mitchusson was elected mayor in 1985 after a vote of no confidence stripped the city’s former mayor and five council members of their titles. He went on to win three subsequent elections, and is credited for rebuilding the public’s trust in government, renovating Front Street and creating the Historic Downtown Poulsbo Association, developing plans for College Marketplace and bringing an Olympic College campus to town.
Dale Rudolph, a former long-time city councilman, said Mitchusson’s impact ranks among those of the city’s founding fathers.
Mitchusson was a member of the Sons of Norway, the Poulsbo Historical Society and the Poulsbo Friends of the Library.
Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson remembered Mitchusson as a jovial, caring man with impressive strength and resolve, qualities he could embody simultaneously.
“How do you do both of those things? I don’t know, but he did,” Erickson said.
Mitchusson was remembered by Barbara, his wife of 33 years, as someone who gave of his time and abilities for friends and strangers alike — a man the community was better for having.
“I was so lucky,” she said. “We were all so lucky.”