WESTPORT, Conn. -- Bill Mitchell’s generosity is only superseded by his humility. Both traits of the longtime Westport clothier were established long ago by his parents, Norma and Ed, who founded Mitchells of Westport in 1958.
“My parents taught me to make a difference, but don’t tell anybody,’’ Mitchell said. “If I can be a beacon and help out in any way that I can, I’ll do it. I try to give to most everybody.”
Mitchell’s generosity has benefited many organizations, including Sacred Heart University, St. Vincent’s Medical Center and the Inner-City Foundation For Charity and Education. The latter has awarded over $26 million in grants since 1992, including $13.5 million in scholarship aid for inner-city school students and $5.8 million to social service agencies. Mitchell has been a board member since 1997.
Mitchell and his brother, Jack, were the first relatives to join the family business which now includes their sons and a host of other family members.
“When my mom and dad started the business, they said it was important to give back,’’ Mitchell said. “It’s part of the responsibility we have. That’s always been part of our family’s philosophy.”
As a pre-teen, Mitchell remembered one instance when a man visited his family during their Sunday dinner. The man needed food, and Mitchell’s father was happy to share some with him.
“I said, ‘Pop, that’s a beautiful thing, but we don’t have much here for ourselves,’’’ Mitchell remembered. “He said, ‘Bill, remember, there are people out there with a lot less than what we have right here.’ That’s part of our culture. My kids, nephews and staff all get that. It’s just the way we are.”
Along with supporting many health organizations, Mitchell also donates to the Paul Newman Foundation. When Newman, the former actor and Westport resident who died in 2008, started the Foundation for sick children in the early 1980s, one of his first calls was to Mitchell.
“Besides my parents, he’s had the most influence on me,’’ Mitchell said. “He said he wanted to start helping kids with cancer, and needed white t-shirts for all of them. Not all of them could play sports or be active, but all of them could have shirts they could paint and make their own designs. He was right. It was the right thing to do for the kids.”
Mitchell rubs elbows with some of the region’s biggest celebrities, but does not flaunt his philanthropy or his friendships. He gives quietly, and surrounds himself with friends who do the same.
“They all give back and they do it graciously,’’ Mitchell said. “They all have the same DNA. You want to be around people who want to give back."
Mitchell still works at the same store where he began working for his parents in 1965. His parents started the store with “three men’s suits, a coffee pot and a dream,’’ as described on the business website. Although it has since greatly expanded, Mitchell’s is still independent and family-owned, and now also has business units in Greenwich, Long Island and California. The roots, and the business’ philanthropy, run back to the parents who started it all more than 50 years ago though.
“The more you give, the more you get back,’’ Mitchell said. “You do it because it’s the right thing to do.”