Richmond newsman ‘Tiger Tom’ Mitchell still roars as he turns 100

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Communications Hall of Famer Tom Mitchell was born 100 years ago Wednesday, although the doctor didn't sign the birth certificate until the next day, so he can celebrate both days.

"You know, I actually didn't think I was going to make it," he joked after some of his fellow radio legends and his family sang "Happy Birthday."

He's still tack sharp, still reading and considering the news, still talking about whether the country is safe.

"Is the country safe?" asked former WANT radio personality Kirby Carmichael, mimicking Mitchell.

Mitchell is celebrating a century alive, with the company of friends

Mitchell is celebrating a century alive, with the company of friends

"I hate to tell you all," John Thomas "Tiger Tom" Mitchell replied, "the country's not safe . . . Because people prefer power over niceness."

Part of Mitchell's fame is his kindness, his search for local people, stories and gospel singers who uplifted others.

"I wrote stories about people who wanted to do things for all people," Mitchell told us. "That's what America is about."

A third generation newsman, he lost part of his right index finger working Maggie Walker's press for her St. Luke Herald paper in the early '30s.

Like his father, Roscoe Mitchell, he would  write for The Richmond Planet, the paper made famous by John Mitchell, his great uncle.

Roscoe and Tom Mitchell also wrote for the "colored page" of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Tom was a stringer for Jet magazine.

Tiger Tom Mitchell

In the late 50s, he brought his love of news, sports and gospel music to the powerhouse WANT radio station. "Anything that impacted the black community that was maybe overlooked by some of the mainstream news organizations," recalled former WANT news director Calvin King. "We tried to focus a lot on that."

Mitchell's ability to absorb and then broadcast the news was legend.

"Tom would read all the newspapers," Carmichael said. After digesting all the print information, "Tom could open the microphone . . . and  do a five minute news cast with no copy - including the weather. That's how good Tom was."

Mitchell says it's hard to recognize some of the attitudes in Richmond.

tiger-tom

"If you don't watch out you'll get yourself shot," he said. "You remember when that shooting started? Nobody thought of shooting people before. Most shootings that went on during my time, if I remember correctly, was when people committed suicide."

His memories of the city's streets, neighborhoods, events and personalities remains vivid. So is his wit.

"I'm scared I'll tell the truth," he said when I told him I wanted to ask him about his many years in the news biz.

As we chatted, it became clear he knew a who's-who of Richmond and quite a few national music legends.

For all he's seen as a newsman from the '30s to the '80s, he has an unwavering faith in this land and what he sees as opportunities for all.

"Old Tom Mitchell," he said, "believes in America. America is simple: Everybody is free. Everybody!"