Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell captures reflections that she wove into a story about unfolding recognition of the Memphis 13, who integrated Memphis City Schools in 1961. (Photo: William Weeks/The New Tri-State Defender)

“Whatcha got for me?”

That was a standard opening for Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell when she answered my call as the associate publisher/executive editor of The New Tri-State Defender.

It was that way for years, until a couple of months of ago when Dr. Mitchell, who had been associated with The New Tri-State Defender before it was even dubbed “new,” was diagnosed with a terminal illness.

On Monday afternoon, Dr. Mitchell died at an area hospital.

Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell

After learning of her diagnosis, Dr. Mitchell shared that she “wanted to challenge” me to contact her as I would normally to cover or attend an event for The New Tri-State Defender. I did so until it was no longer an option.

Still, Dr. Mitchell remained upbeat, texting me at point with this: “It’s funny ‘Dr. K’. Once faced with the worst possible news, somehow I am staring that thing back down. …

“It’s funny how time, perspective and priorities can change in a moment.”

Dr. Mitchell relied heavily upon her family as her time wound down.

“She touched so many lives,” said her sister, Marcia Mitchell-Maness. “She was a true sweetheart and a kind soul. We miss her.”

Services will be Oct. 12 at 1 p.m. at Brown Missionary Baptist Church, 980 State Line Rd. in Southhaven.

Brenda Buford-Shaw met Dr. Mitchell in 1979, remembering her as a “young vivacious young reporter” sythe MidSouth Express Newspaper that was then located on Bellevue.

“We were both reporters who wrote community articles including Church Events. Sybil had an outgoing personality and never met a stranger. 

“Talented and full of smiles, she wrote from her heart and soul. From the smallest event to the largest one, you were never the same when she captivated readers and made you feel that you should have been there.”

Dr. Mitchell interviewed Buford-Shaw two years ago.

“She interviewed me as she introduced my hymn arrangement book.”

Describing Dr. Mitchell as an artist and motivator, Buford-Shaw said Dr. Mitchell “gave Memphis and the word a gift of herself. That pleasant spirit will always be a major part of Memphis History. … The Tri-State Defender allowed her to dig deep into her talents. She made us all proud.”

As much of Memphis shut down during the pandemic, Dr. Mitchell, a graduate of Hamilton High School and Vanderbilt University, pushed forward.

She kept readers updated from the weekly health briefings and at one point wrote a first-person reflection about participating in a COVID case study. Her work anchored the recognition The New Tri-State Defender received for its pandemic coverage from the Tennessee Press Association.

Reporters and editors have rough times when one or both have fallen short of embrace standards. Dr. Mitchell and I worked through such times with the resolve to do better with our readers in mind.

In one of our last exchanges, we reflected on how our journalism paths had intersected – She was on staff when I arrived in June 2007 – and how we had weathered so many changes at the TSD and in the journalism industry.

“What a great ride it’s been,” she shared.

“I’ve had a wonderful life and career and you have been such a tremendous part of that. Thank you for that.”

I replied: “You are amazing and inspiring.”

(There will be more reflections on the life and legacy of Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell in the days to come.)