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John W. Mitchell '56

John W. Mitchell '56

John W. Mitchell ’56, a former member of the NMH Board of Trustees and a lifelong supporter of the school, died peacefully at the age of 83 on Sept. 3, 2022.

John was a four-year senior, class valedictorian, and member of the Cum Laude Society at NMH. His school awards included the Achievement Award, the Harvard Book Prize, the Robert Cade Wilson Scholarship, and the Head of School Award for exemplary service to NMH. He participated in soccer, football, swimming, baseball, and track and served on the Hermonite board and Gateway yearbook staff. John graduated with academic honors from Yale in 1960 and later earned an MBA from New York University.  John frequently credited NMH — and, in particular, the generous financial assistance he received from the school — for all of his successes.

John Webster Mitchell was born in Orange, New Jersey, on Oct. 11, 1938, to Herbert and Elizabeth Mitchell. Herbert was a salesman who fell on hard times during the Great Depression, causing the family to relocate from New Jersey to an unheated house on Cape Cod. The local school was small and poorly resourced. John’s parents recognized his talents early on, and they valued education. In 1952, financial assistance allowed John to enter Mount Hermon School for Boys, as it was then known. This was a turning point in John’s life that he loved to recount.  

Upon graduation from Yale in 1960, he entered the business world, working at Procter and Gamble’s Tide soap factory on Staten Island, New York. In 1964, John joined Pfizer Inc., in an entry-level position at its Brooklyn plant. He went on to spend 40 productive years with the company, retiring in 2004 as president of Pfizer Global Manufacturing.  

Over the years, John had steadily worked his way up through the ranks: In 1972, he was named project director for the construction and startup of Pfizer’s new plant in Barceloneta, Puerto Rico. From 1975 to 1978, he served in Puerto Rico as vice president/general manager. In 1978, he became the head of U.S. pharmaceutical production. In 1997, John was named vice president of manufacturing for the newly formed Pfizer Pharmaceutical Group. In 2001, he was named to the Pfizer Leadership Team, becoming one of very few executives to participate in the senior leadership of the company.

The organization John led so ably, Pfizer Global Manufacturing (PGM), was formed in 1999 and was eventually responsible for worldwide manufacturing operations that produced and distributed all of Pfizer’s human healthcare, consumer healthcare, and animal health products. PGM operated 81 plants and 36 logistics centers in 37 countries, with approximately 35,000 employees. John built a world-class, globally integrated supply organization that was firmly focused on its vision, mission, and values. Under John’s leadership, PGM became a strategic asset to Pfizer, with a commitment to quality, environmental protection, health and safety, cost reduction, assured supply of new products, and outstanding customer service. 

After his retirement from Pfizer, John served on the NMH Board of Trustees from 2006 to 2016, including exemplary service as chair of the Buildings and Grounds Committee. In addition to his loyal and generous annual support of the NMH Fund, he contributed to nearly every NMH priority since joining the board, including the rowing program (he was a member of the Yale crew club), the Draper Riverhouse, the Bolger Early Childhood Education Center, Norton House renovations, Blake Student Center improvements, and the athletics fields. 

In 2012, John purchased a power generator — nicknamed The Lamplighter — for the campus, in response to two consecutive harsh winters that rendered the campus temporarily without electricity. John was appropriately proud to have quietly and quickly solved a problem that could have had a severe detrimental impact to the campus and NMH faculty and students. Ever grateful for the financial support he received to attend Mount Hermon, he regularly supported his class scholarship and made NMH the beneficiary of his Pfizer retirement plan, which will result in a new scholarship established in his parents’ names.

John also traveled to Asia with NMH staff members numerous times and was extremely helpful in making connections with alumni, parents, and friends in the Pacific Rim. John had an adventuresome spirit, a sophisticated palate for delicious food and good martinis, and a deep and abiding love for Northfield Mount Hermon. He was a careful editor and an excellent writer and had what some termed “a scrappy can-do spirit” that helped create legacies all over campus. He will be greatly missed, but his footprint on campus will remain a lasting demonstration of his care for students and for NMH’s mission.