Barton S. Mitchell, a retired asphalt paving company executive who was active in Maryland Republican politics and enjoyed collecting vintage cars, died Sunday of lung cancer at his Lutherville home. He was 73.
"Bart was just a larger-than-life character who sucked all the air out of the room and loved playing the part of the 'Big Cheeeze,' which those who knew him called him. Everything with Bart was big, big, and I will miss him," said former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a longtime friend.
"Maryland will miss him, and thousands of his friends will miss him. He was passionate about his hobbies, the family business and his friends. He was always a condition-less friend," said Mr. Ehrlich.
"Bart was in money circles. That's what he did. He raised money," said Helen Delich Bentley, the former congresswoman and chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission.
"He was interested in getting more people in office and he felt very strongly that it was important for the country to have a strong two-party system, and he gave his all to get us there," said Mrs. Bentley, who added that Mr. Mitchell worked with Jim Knott to raise money on several of her campaigns.
"He was big in stature and had broad shoulders. He sort of took over a room whenever he came into it, and he always did a good job," said Mrs. Bentley.
The son of E. Stewart Mitchell and Irene Barton Mitchell, Barton Stewart Mitchell was born in Baltimore and raised on Bellemore Road in Roland Park.
After graduating from McDonogh School in 1958, he earned a bachelor's degree in 1962 from Washington & Lee University, where he was a member of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.
After graduation, Mr. Mitchell served in the Coast Guard for six months before joining the family asphalt business, E. Stewart Mitchell Inc., which had been established by his father in 1941 on Ridgewood Avenue in Northwest Baltimore. The company became a leading marketer, transporter and applier of all types of liquid asphalt.
Mr. Mitchell was 28 when he took over the company in 1968 after his father's death.
In addition to E. Mitchell Stewart Inc., Mr. Mitchell had owned or controlled the Bituminous Emulsion Co., MDG Inc., Mitchell Industries Inc. and Montgomery Construction Inc.
In 1976, Mr. Mitchell and two partners, Bob Surface and Ron White, established Superior Paving Corp. in Gainesville, Va., which has grown to be the leading hot-mix paving firm in Northern Virginia. It operates nine hot-mix plants and a 10th through an affiliated plant.
"I guess I first met Bart about 1969 or 1970. I was working for a paving company in Fairfax, and we were buying our liquid asphalt from his company in Baltimore," said Mr. Surface.
"So we started Superior Paving Corp. in 1976, and have gotten along fine and dandy ever since then," said Mr. Surface, who is now retired from the company.
"Bart was a studious thinker and a visionary. He was very much a micro-management guy who had a head for the minutiae," said Mr. White, former chairman and CEO of Superior, who is now vice chairman. "He always saw the big picture and put together the strategy to get us there. He was a big presence among our employees, who very much liked him."
Mr. White said his partner easily took control of a situation.
"People always paid attention to what Bart had to say. He was such a great partner, and no one could have anyone better to provide the leadership to get us down the path," he said.
Mr. Mitchell retired in 1995 and handed E. Stewart Mitchell Inc. to his son, David Mitchell of Severna Park, who operated the business until closing it in 2011.
Another son, James Mitchell of Warrenton, Va., is now the president of Superior Paving, while Mr. Surface's son, Frank Surface, is CEO.
In 1983, Mr. Mitchell, who had been cooperating with state and federal officials investigating Maryland highway contracts, was sentenced to several months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy in a bid-rigging scheme.
Mr. Mitchell "was the key event, the way the investigation got off the ground," a source who was close to the investigation told The Baltimore Sun in a 1983 article. "Without his participation, [federal and state] investigators would have nothing."
Mr. Mitchell was a past president of the Maryland Asphalt Association and the Maryland Highway Contractors. In 1981, he was named to the board and later served as chairman of the National Asphalt Pavement Association. He was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2010.
Mr. Mitchell had served as an officer, including president, of the Baltimore Skipjacks minor-league ice hockey franchise for 14 years, and had been the owner of Southern Maryland Marine.
He served on the boards of Roland Park Country School and Boys' Latin School.
Mr. Mitchell had long been active in Maryland Republican politics, fundraising and working on campaigns.
"I first got to know Bart during my first year in Congress, and our friendship took off and we became very close. He later was also one of my top fundraisers. He loved Maryland and Maryland politics," said Mr. Ehrlich. "He was the kind of guy you could call in the middle of the night, and he'd give you the shirt off his back, money, a job or whatever you needed, and that's why people loved him so much."
"He was an incredible guy who had friends everywhere. He took his friendships seriously and had been a great mentor to me," said John C. Reith, a longtime friend. "He was good to his employees. He was good to everyone."
"Besides times spent with his friends and family, where he was known as 'Cheeeze,' other hobbies included powerboating and collecting vintage American automobiles," said his daughter, Kimberly Mitchell Wolff of Roland Park.
Mr. Mitchell's collection — which included 16 cars — featured a 1933 Ford panel truck, a 1953 Cadillac Eldorado and a 1957 Thunderbird. It even included three Chevrolet Corvettes, two from 1967 and one from 1986.
A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Friday at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St.
In addition to his two sons and daughter, Mr. Mitchell is survived by his wife of 38 years, the former Elizabeth "Beth" Snow; another son, Stewart Mitchell of Bozeman, Mont.; two stepsons, Jeffrey Maddrey of Chevy Chase and Greg Maddrey of Wayzata, Minn.; and 15 grandchildren.
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