Jennifer Mitchell, beloved colleague, host, and reporter at Maine Public, has died
Maine Public is mourning the recent loss of a voice that's familiar to longtime listeners.
Jennifer Mitchell, former host and reporter here at Maine Public, passed away last Friday Nov. 17, 2023 after being diagnosed with cancer about two years ago.
Jennifer was endlessly curious. And that curiosity could be heard in the stories she reported. Like the one about an ice cream stick manufacturer in Maine — the last in the country. Or the one about what happened to the Maine Potato Boy — the marketing face of the state's crop for a generation gone by.
"She often had questions - she'd say - I'm wondering about blah blah blah, and you'd just be like wow. I hadn't thought of that," said Susan Sharon, deputy news director at Maine Public. "She would just take the unusual angle. She'd think of something you hadn't thought of before."
Jennifer was also versatile. When she first came to Maine Public 20 years ago, she was a classical music host and a reporter. Her spouse, Nick Woodward, who is director of media production services at Maine Public, said it was classical music that introduced Jennifer to public radio.
"Growing up in rural Maine, public radio was her connection to the world," Woodward said. "And I know this sounds like a pledge break. And Jen would be the first person to say that and laugh at it. But she was adamant that listening to public radio, specifically classical music, really took her out of the little world she was in and showed her there was a much bigger world."
And Jennifer explored it. She left Maine Public for a few years to work at a station in South Africa. She returned here in 2009 as weekend morning host and reporter, eventually becoming the host of All Things Considered. She excelled in all of her roles, said Maine Public Senior Editor Keith Shortall.
"She could turn a story around quickly. Breaking news, if you will," Shortall said. "She could do live interviews, either as a host or the person being debriefed. She was an excellent host and was also this really skilled storyteller."
Working out of the Bangor office, Jennifer covered the food and agriculture beat. And she was passionate about reporting stories in rural Maine, said News Director Mark Simpson.
"She had this vast territory that she thought about," Simpson said. "It wasn't just the Bangor area. She really saw herself as holding the keys to the gateway north, and all of those incredible stories that are up there."
Especially the work that other people do. She produced a series about traditional trades called 'Once Upon a Job.' And one of the most popular stories she ever produced was about a grave digger in Washington County. Here is a short excerpt from the story:
Jennifer Mitchell: "It's windy. It's winter. There's a funeral in three days. And the churchyard in rural Addison Maine is frozen solid."
Everard Hall: "This ain't no easy job, I tell ya. you've gotta have a lot of determination. A lot of willpower."
"It's one thing to be able to tell a story in radio, which Jennifer was very good at," Shortall said. "But I'm not sure if it's really well understood that it's sort of a separate skill to be able to go and find characters out in the world and then get them to tell you those stories. I know it may sound like an easy thing, but it really isn't."
Her stories were sound-rich, whether it was directly from the scene or from archival sound, like in this story about etiquette classes at Husson University.
And of course, Jennifer's voice, warm and welcoming, added its own richness to our airwaves. Woodward said at least that will live on.
"I mean, that's the one magic thing about broadcasting: she lives on not only in her actual voice that's out there, but she lives on in the information and the inspiration that she gave to other people. And that meant a lot to her," Woodward said.
Jennifer Mitchell was 50. We lost her too soon. And we're going to miss her.