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Derek Van Zant MitchellMarch 29, 1932 ~ April 21, 2017 (age 85)
HAMILTON - Derek Van Zant Mitchell died peacefully on April 21, 2017 in his Hamilton home surrounded by his wife and children. Derek was born March 29, 1932 in Binghamton, NY to Arnold and Grace Mitchell. His life was filled with his family and travel and was dedicated to service and helping others. He loved the water and was active in his children’s swimming and diving practices and competitions.
After his mother passed away at an early age, Derek was raised by family and friends. He was always an avid reader and good student. He graduated early from high school and was accepted at the United States Naval Academy. He met the love of his life, Jeanne Mussil of Chicago, in June Week of 1953 and they were married after his graduation on June 23, 1954. Following graduation, Derek was immediately commissioned into the US Air Force as a second lieutenant.
He was originally deployed to Houston, Texas for navigation training and to get his wings. His career moved him around the US, from Rome, New York, to exotic Trinidad in the Caribbean and included stops as a flight engineer in Spokane, two-tours in Viet Nam in A-1’s and F-4 jets, to USC where he received his MBA, the Pentagon and two deployments in sunny Florida. After 23 years, Derek retired as a Lieutenant Colonel at Homestead AFB, south of Miami.
After retirement, Derek started a business in the northwestern US. His travels brought him through Hamilton, where he fell in love with the mountains and town and purchased a rundown homestead that the family quickly began remodeling on West Side Road.
An opportunity arose to work again in his field of expertise with TRW consulting for the Iranian Air Force. Derek moved to Teheran. His family joined him for the summer of 1978 and they had a wonderful experience touring and learning about Iran. However, revolutionary tensions began to surface toward the end of their summer stay. His family returned to the US for school that fall and Derek caught one of the last flights out of Teheran to the US the following December.
Always eager to learn and help others, Derek began another new chapter in his life when he attended the University of Montana in Missoula to study for and receive his teaching certificate. He began substitute teaching around the valley and eventually took a full-time position teaching in the Resource Room of Florence High School for the next 12 years.
Finally retiring in 1995, Derek and Jeanne spent their time traveling the world, visiting their son and daughter, relaxing in Mexico and enjoying their many friends in the Bitterroot.
He is preceded in death by his parents, Arnold and Grace Mitchell of Binghamton, NY and brother Peter. He leaves his wife of 63 years, Jeanne Mitchell of Hamilton, two children and four grandchildren, Derek and Trish Mitchell of Seattle, Washington, Jake and Jack: and Grace and Troy Westbrook of Clearfield, Utah, Jessica and Rebecca. Derek also leaves many close family and friends throughout the States.
A memorial celebration will be held at 1:00 pm this Saturday, April 29, at Daly-Leach Memorial Chapel in Hamilton and is open to all family, friends and acquaintances.
Donations in Derek’s memory and gifts in lieu of flowers can be made to the Bitterroot Humane Association in Hamilton.