The impact of a strong dad or model business patriarch is often under-recognized today. But a ‘Father for good’ has an undeniable legacy.
Gerard E. Mitchell is one of the nation’s best lawyers who earned a reputation as one of the most effective medical malpractive attorney’s in Washington, D.C.
Just don’t expect him to tell you that.
“Those things don’t mean too much objectively,” Mitchell, 72, says of the many awards and accolades he has earned throughout his long and distinguished legal carreer. Washingtonian Magazine has listed him amont the District of Columbia’s Best Lawyers and he is consistenly listed in the Best Lawyers of America’s Review.
“It’s nice to be mentioned in the book, but I don’t take that stuff too seriously,” said Mitchell, a charter member of Legatus’ Washington, D.C. Chapter.
That sort of modestly does not surprise people who know him, including Robert B. Desimone, Executive Director of the Youth Leadership Foundation, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that helps inner-city youth and for which Mitchell serves as the Board of Directors’ President.
Desimone recalled an important meeting with a potential grant funder who asked Mitchell what he did for work. Desimone said Mitchell simply replied, “I’m a lawyer.”
Ahem…But There’s More…
“I had to chime in,” DeSimone said. “I said, ‘He’s not just a lawyer. He’s won all these accolades and is one of the country’s best attorneys.’
“He’s not in it for the accolades,” DeSimone added. “He’s really in it for the people he’s trying to serve. That’s how he lives out his profession. He does it with a spirit of service. I think that’s where the humility comes from.”
Mitchell, a Washington, D.C. native, stays grounded with his deep Catholic faith that he says has played an important role in his life since he attended Catholic schools in his youth. Mitchell, a graduate of Georgetown University, met his wife, Germana, through pro-life work.
“We’ve always been serious right-to-lifers,” Mitchell said.
Son of a Catholic convert who Prioritized Prayer, Spirituality
His late father, Howard Mitchell, a former longtime music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, was a convert to Catholicism who said the rosary every day.
Along with his father’s example, Mitchell draws inspiration from St. Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei. Mitchell, a 40-year member of Opus Dei, credits the saint’s writings and insights with imparting important life lessons such as the necessity of prayer and the need to prioritize spiritual exercises in one’s daily plan of life.
Mitchell’s discipline in the spiritual life is borne out in that he sees his primary vocation as being a faithful husband to Germana, his wife of 35 years, and as a father to his nine children, one of whom was recently ordained a Catholic priest, son John Paul.
“Your primary vocation is to the Lord,” Mitchell said. “The best thing you can do for your wife is to be faithful to the Lord, and the best thing you can do for your kids is to be faithful to your wife.”
DeSimone said many people look to Mitchell for advice about family life.
“They see his family, his wife, their nine kids, and they see a lot of happiness and virtue, and that’s attractive,” DeSimone said. “They ask him how they can get their own families to be virtuous and happy.”
Secret to Life-Balance-Keeping God First
Asked how he balances family life with professional responsibilities, Mitchell shared an insight from St. Josemaria Escriva: make time for the the important priorities first, and be unbending in keeping those commitments.
“It’s about using your time intelligently and not wasting it,” said Mitchell, who recalls as a younger man seeing the late Edward Bennett Williams at Mass every morning. Williams was a prominent Washington, D.C. trial lawyer who had ownership stakes in the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Orioles.
“Who am I to say I’m too busy if Edward Bennett Williams has time to go to Mass every day,” said Mitchell, who emphasized that kind of time management does not require any genius on his or anyone’s part.
“It just requires will power and a certain amount of trust,” Mitchell said. “If you do what you’re supposed to do, the Lord will take care of everything else.”
In addition to his duties as a longtime partner at Stein Mitchell Cipollone Beato & Missner LLP, Mitchell volunteers his time on several boards of directors for local nonprofits, including the Youth Leadership Foundation, which seeks to help inner-city youth develop positive habits related to character and hone leadership skills.
Faith Isn’t Without Works
“It helps them to acquire the sense of the importance of doing things right, of doing things in line with good character and good virtue,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell also serves on the board at the Catholic Information Center, an initiative that offers spiritual, intellectual and professional programs to help lead an integrated life. Mitchell is also on the board of directors for the Religious Freedom Institute, an organization that highlights the importance of religious liberty as a fundamental human right. Mitchell said those organizations all do a lot of good and important work.
“It’s a chance to make a contribution you couldn’t make single-handedly,” he said. “There is strength in numbers.”
Thomas Farr, a Georgetown professor who serves as president of the Religious Freedom Institute, said Mitchell is “indispensable” to the nonprofit’s board of directors.
“Not only because of his legal expertise as an attorney, but even more importantly, his savvy as a down-to-earth, getit-done kind of guy,” said Farr, who met Mitchell several years ago through various events at Georgetown. Farr said he was pleased when Mitchell accepted his invitation to serve on the RFI’s board.
Knowing His Place
“He’s extremely humble and he’s a wonderful Catholic man who believes deeply in the teachings of the Church,” Farr said. “I think his humility carries over into his legal work. However, I think it’s a big mistake to mistake his humility for an absence of precision and effectiveness as a courtroom attorney. I think he’s terrific in that capacity.”
Mitchell said he never thought of becoming anything other than an attorney. He recalls his mother telling him when he was around 5 years old that he would be a lawyer one day.
“I think it’s because I always had some kind of answer,” Mitchell said with a wry sense of humor. Despite his numerous awards, he describes himself as more of a journeyman whose results are more the the product “of perspiration than brilliance.”
“I’m not a guy that can read executive memos. Nobody’s going to confuse me with a whiz kid,” Mitchell said.
Those who know Mitchell would disagree with that self-assessment, but would agree that he has an unparalleled work ethic, which goes in line with the spirituality rooted in the everyday workplace and home that Opus Dei espouses. Mitchell said several of St. Josemaria Escriva’s writings anticipate what Legatus members do in terms of harmonizing and integrating their faith into business life.
“St. Josemaria understands the modern secular world and how it’s possible to function in that in a really normal way and still live your life to the fullest,” said Mitchell, who added that Legatus has also provided an invaluable forum for he and Germana to make friendships and deepen their faith.
“Legatus is helpful to me,” he said. “It’s a fun date night for us and we’ve made some friendships through Legatus that have been wonderful to have. I’m sure there’s more to come.”
BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.