MacNeil Mitchell

January 9, 1997

Former New York State Senator MacNeil Mitchell, who gave his name to the landmark 1955 Mitchell-Lama law creating middle-income urban housing, died on Dec. 17 at New York Hospital. A summer resident of Amagansett for over 40 years, he was 92.

Born on July 18, 1904, in Lime Rock, Conn., to George Elliot Mitchell and the former Harriet MacNeil, Mr. Mitchell grew up in Mount Vernon, N.Y., Salisbury, Conn., and New York City. He was a 1926 graduate of Yale, and attended Columbia Law School for a time before receiving his law degree from the University of California Law School.

After practicing law for five or six years, Mr. Mirchell ran successfully for the State Assembly, representing Manhattan's Silk Stocking district. He spent 10 years in the Assembly and was then elected to the State Senate; he was re-elected over and over for the next two decades, until he left politics in 1965.

In 1955, Senator Mitchell, a Republican, with the Democratic Assemblyman Alfred A. Lama, sponsored the white-collar housing legislation that was to become a model for other cities.

During his years as a Senator he headed several committees, but was particularly interested in housing, transportation, alcoholism, education, and juvenile delinquency, said his son, Neil Mitchell of New York City.

After he left the Legislature Mr. Mitchell returned full time to his law firm, Mitchell, Barker & Cohen, having maintained his practice throughout his time in Albany. He continued to practice law well into his 80s.

A lifelong devotee of music, Mr. Mitchell worked with Isaac Stern in 1960 to sponsor the legislation that saved Carnegie Hall, where he was a board member. He was also on the board of the New York City Opera.

He first visited Amagansett in 1936, said his son, staying in boarding houses. After his marriage in 1938, the family continued coming to the hamlet, and in 1953 they bought the old Emery house on Meeting House Lane. Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell continued to spend summers there until 1994.

Besides music, said Neil Mitchell, his father loved trains, an interest that began in college, when he worked for a summer for the Union Pacific Railroad in Colorado. Steam engines were his passion, though he always enjoyed riding the diesel trains to Amagansett. He often took train trips just for the fun of it, said his son.

A member of the Devon Yacht Club's board of governors for almost 40 years, Mr. Mitchell was the club's fleet captain for part of that time. Many years ago, he served as the master of ceremonies at Amagansett Village Improvement Society fairs, his son recalled. He belonged also to the Maidstone Club, where he was an "occasional golfer," said his son.

Mrs. Mitchell, the former Katherine McGowin, survives. Besides his son, Mr. Mitchell leaves two daughters, Martha Ettehadieh of London and Marian Nicholson of Laguna Niguel, Calif. Six grandchildren survive as well.

A funeral service was held on Dec. 20 at St. James Episcopal Church in New York City, the Rev. Thomas Cushman officiating. Burial was at Salisbury Cemetery in Connecticut.

Memorial donations have been suggested to the Brookdale Center on Aging, 425 East 25th Street, New York 10010 or Carnegie Hall, 881 Seventh Avenue, New York 10019.