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Baltimore Sun's 2018 Business and Civic Hall of Fame honoree: Patricia J. Mitchell

P.J. Mitchell, president of the Center Club.
P.J. Mitchell, president of the Center Club. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Patricia J. Mitchell, or “P.J.” as she’s known to most of her friends, is ready to make a confession: She’s flunked retirement, failed it badly “with a big fat F.” After leaving her executive position as a global sales vice president with IBM eight years ago, she has devoted herself to more boards and volunteer causes than she could possibly have envisioned. Name a high-profile civic institution, and there’s a good chance she’s been involved with it, from the United Way (locally and nationally) and Notre Dame of Maryland University (it’s her alma mater) to chairing the board of the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“It’s like having a full-time job, but you have more flexibility,” the Stoneleigh native confesses. “Your calendar gets just as filled, but that’s not all bad.”

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One reason why Ms. Mitchell shows up on so many governing boards, including for-profit companies like KCI Technologies and Sun Trust Maryland, is that she brings a lot to the table, particularly when it comes to increasing an organization’s diversity and inclusiveness. Her impact at the United Way is still being felt. She co-founded a women’s leadership group that focused on volunteerism, mentoring and networking specifically for women that now contributes $4 million annually to the Central Maryland cause. She chaired a similar leadership council for the United Way of America. The result of the council’s work? Contributions totalling $188 million annually, or $1.5 billion to date.

Dr. John B. Chessare, president and CEO and GBMC HealthCare, summarizes his organization’s chair in one word: “fabulous.” He then quickly ticks off all the qualities she’s brought to the board — smart, tough, personable and perhaps most important of all, she knows how to “roll with the punches,” a key asset in the challenging business of delivering medical care these days. “And she understands nonsense when she hears it,” Dr. Chessare adds. “She’s just an incredible person.”

One of her current projects is the $2.3 million renovation of the Center Club at 100 Light Street in downtown Baltimore. As president of the club’s board of governors, she knows the history of the club well. It was established in 1962 not simply to be a place where local business leaders could meet and discuss ways to improve their city but to be a club that would not discriminate on the basis of race, religion or ethnicity, which other Baltimore clubs most assuredly did in that era. Today, she’s proud of how diverse and popular it’s become, not just for business leaders getting together but for social activities and for members’ families as well. Membership is the highest it’s been in 20 years.

“P.J. puts her full heart and soul into whatever she does,” says John B. Frisch, former chairman and CEO of Miles & Stockbridge. “She’s very organized and thoroughly prepared. She also has a reservoir of energy that’s contagious. She brings out the best in people.”

Indeed, the observation that she brings out the best in people comes up over and over from those who have worked with her over the years. She credits much of her success on the skills she developed, at IBM where she held various positions up and down the East Coast, but there might also be something in the genes. Both her parents were STEM before it was cool. Her mother was the first woman hired in the engineering department at Glenn L. Martin, and her father designed the hydraulics on the Gemini launch vehicle. She was the first (“Please don’t use ‘eldest,’ ” she instructs) of their five children. Volunteerism was also part of the family tradition.

Ms. Mitchell also regards herself fortunate not to have encountered the kind of sexual harrassment chronicled so often by the #MeToo movement and credits IBM for creating the proper environment. Still, she recognizes that it wasn’t always an easy climb up the ladder. That club she’s running? It didn’t allow women in the main dining hall until the 1970s. It’s like that old saying about Fred Astaire being such a fabulous dancer but Ginger Rogers having to do it all backward and in heels. “I think things are changing for the better,” she says.

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