Dr. Christopher W. Mitchell, Director of the Marion E. Wade Center from 1994-2013, died unexpectedly on July 10, 2014. Here, friends, scholars, and others familiar with Chris’s life and work or affiliated with the Wade Center leave their memories and tributes. All of us here at the Wade thank you for helping us to remember Chris, our dear friend and colleague.
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Philip G. Ryken
President of Wheaton College
“Chris Mitchell has been a good friend and a constant encouragement. We became better acquainted through some of his visits to Oxford when I was a student there. I know that over the years Chris prayed for God to bless me in life and ministry. He has advanced the kingdom mission of Wheaton College and helped the wider church by serving as a champion for C.S. Lewis and the other Wade authors. We will all miss his teaching and scholarship. But the loss also has a personal dimension: until I see Chris again, I will miss our good conversations.”
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Lyle W. Dorsett
Former Director of the Marion E. Wade Center (1983-1990), and currently Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama; author of And God Came In: The Extraordinary Story of Joy Davidman and Seeking the Secret Place: The Spiritual Formation of C.S. Lewis
“Dr. Chris Mitchell served ably as Director of the Wade Center. A theologian by training and a pastor-teacher by calling, Chris blessed everyone associated with the Wade Center as well as those in the fellowship of scholars and readers who love the works of C.S. Lewis. Dr. Mitchell is fondly remembered and will be sorely missed.”
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Tolkien scholar and author of Perilous Realms: Celtic and Norse in Tolkien's Middle-earth
“Chris was part of my Tolkien group. We met because of that, but we shared more. We shared a love of Oregon and the landscape of that part of the world, and we talked easily about life and family and ideas. Chris loved humanity and life, and he deeply loved his family and his God.”
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Founding member of The New York C.S. Lewis Society, and author of Remembering C.S. Lewis: Recollections by Those Who Knew Him
“Chris was a prince among men. In a different age, and in a very different place than this, that would have been literally the case. Now, at least on this side of eternity, we must settle for a metaphor. We know that he was a man of many gifts: of intellect, temperament and character. What I care to emphasize here is that those gifts – especially his keenness of intellect and the amplitude of knowledge that went with it – those gifts were at the service of others.
This shows in his work with the Wade Center, I think. Of course he was a first-rate scholar. No one knew Lewis – I’ll stop at Lewis because I could never keep up with him on the other writers – better, more thoroughly, and more penetratingly than Chris. If he were never the Director of Wade he would still be among our most valuable Lewis writers. Well, he was the Director, and, in my opinion, he brought the Center to its highest, richest point. One event in particular symbolizes his achievement as the Faithful Steward, and that was his catalyzing of the presentation of the Wade Lifetime Achievement award for Walter Hooper. My wife and I were there for that, and my heart filled with joy when I beheld the portraits of the two godfathers of Lewis studies, the great Clyde Kilby and the devoted Walter Hooper, side-by-side at the Wade.
I also experienced Chris’s gifts more directly. After I picked him up at LaGuardia airport before our Lewis Society Weekend, we stopped at the Neptune diner. He saw that it had been voted the best diner in Queens for, oh, I don’t know, the last five hundred years? He couldn’t contain himself. He took a placemat with that announcement and had the owner sign it. He then photographed that and mailed it to an old friend who had grown up in Queens, asking if he had ever had the pleasure! He couldn’t stop grinning. We talked baseball, which he loved, and we decided on a quick tour of New York. Owing to the good graces of a friend, we three drove around Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens for three hours after our conference. The tour included a stop at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I wondered if he might not feel quite at home. “There are holy places, Jim,” he said, “and this is one of them. You can feel it, the place is filled with Him.” His reverence was palpable. Among my dearest memories is the dinner he and his dear Julie – Chris loved his family beyond words but his love for Julie was a teenager’s: he was manifestly in love – invited Alexandra and me to at his home, with his son waiting the table with grace and good humor.
During our last telephone conversation (days before his going hence) I told Chris that he was indeed a prince among men, that his stewardship of the Wade will never be equaled, and that I was proud that he thought of me as his brother, as I did him. I could not know those would be my last words to him, but I am grateful to a gracious Lord that he allowed them.
We come to terms with losses, but some of them we never get over. Chris’s absence is one of those.”
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David C. Downing
R.W. Schlosser Professor of English, Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, PA, and author of Into the Wardrobe: C. S. Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles and Looking for the King: An Inklings Novel
“Christopher was well-named: ‘Christ bearer.’ He saw Christ in others and he showed others what it looks like to be a follower of Christ. He wore his wide learning lightly; we might start out talking about Lewis or Tolkien and soon find ourselves discussing Chesterton, the Great Awakening, Karl Barth, or a new book out on American Evangelicalism. He had a zest and enthusiasm for learning, expressed in friendly and self-effacing terms, that was surely the best way to carry on the Inklings legacy--not just to talk about them, but to embody their spirit in our own times.”
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Professor Emeritus of English and Africana Studies, Bowling Green State University
“I was introduced to Chris Mitchell at the Buswell Library at Wheaton, long before he took on the direction of the Wade Center, and before there was a beautiful building to house the collection. He was already established as an astute and eloquent theological scholar, had his doctoral degree from St Andrews in Scotland, and was about to become important to Lewis scholars everywhere. And indeed he was.
I was impressed by my first encounter with him, because Chris was with his children, and I am always impressed by a father who is kind and comfortable around his kids. He was as proud of his family as he was of any purely scholarly endeavor.
Chris knew a lot about a lot of things, including the Inklings, and especially C.S. Lewis. Scholarship makes some academics proud or haughty, and hungry for publicity. Chris’s erudition made him the opposite: humble, reflective, gentle, precise. His goal at the Wade, as those who came to know him realized, was to use his wisdom and thoughtfulness to assist them in illuminating their subject matter.
I was privileged to get to know Chris by the long and engaging phone calls we had over twenty years, and by the short but rich visits we shared at the Wade, and at some of the international conference programs on which we found ourselves. What I learned by watching and listening as Chris interacted with a large cast of inquirers, well-wishers, and wayfarers was incalculable. The winsome character of Christ shined through Chris at every point, as well as his enduring patience and empathy.
The last time I saw Chris was three years ago. He and our mutual friend, Jerry Root, spent the weekend at my home in Ohio, ostensibly to discuss current Lewis scholarship. What, in fact, they brought me was a bracing sympathy for the recent loss of my father. Chris, in his most personal, consoling, but straightforward way, prayed for my clear vision and urged my stalwart way forward, continuing the journey my late father had set before me. It was a treasure to my soul.
One can only imagine how widely Chris shared his bountiful love and compassion with his family, and all those who called upon him for companionship and comfort during his too, too short sojourn in this world.”
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Professor Emerita in the Department of English at University of Maryland, and author of Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien's World, and Interrupted Music: The Making of Tolkien's Mythology
“I first met Chris Mitchell at an early meeting of the Tolkien Symposium, and found him to be not just a Tolkien enthusiast (we were all that) but a dedicated scholar, teacher, and thinker. Though we only met at conferences, Chris and I enjoyed many discussions about the literature dear to us, and I always looked forward to seeing him. The Tolkien/Fantasy community is the poorer for his loss, and the careful balance of enthusiasm with rigorous study that made him the scholar he was. Hail and farewell, Chris. And Bon Voyage.”
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Metamora, Illinois - Professor (retired) of English & Journalism, Illinois Central College, East Peoria, Illinois
"My wife Jo and I were staggered and shocked by the sudden, sorrowful news of Chris Mitchell’s death on July 10.
A gentleman and a scholar, he was blessed, and blessed his friends, with a wry wit. Vivid happy memories of our times together at the Wade have flooded back to the days when I would bring up vanloads of my Illinois Central College fantasy literature students to study the treasure trove of Inklings material, particularly the C.S. Lewis items.
But I’d always stop by to visit with Chris in his office. He’d share rare gems from the Wade collection, like a chronicle of Lewis’s library. I’d pursue my scholarship of Jack’s woefully under-rated older brother, eighteenth-century French historian Warnie Lewis, including his journals, as well as fellow Inkling and friends Dr. Robert E. Havard and Lewis’s pupil and biographer George Sayer.
When his schedule allowed, Chris and I would scamper out to share lunch at Wheaton College’s gourmandic food court or, better yet, an English-style pub for fish and chips and a proper 1420 for me.
There our talk was as much familial as literary. His honest intimacy encouraged reciprocation. I always left at day’s end wishing I needn’t go.
In 1996, I encouraged a new friend, young Catholic Northwestern University history scholar Adam Schwartz, to join my class there. Adam, the only child of my much-admired Marquette University teacher and mentor Dr. Joseph Schwartz, met us.
But he spent all his time engrossed in talk with Pam Shade, the Wade receptionist. Love at first chat.
Not long after, Chris and I were standing up as groomsmen for Pam and Adam’s wedding. When the wedding photographer snapped the portrait of us men in our formal morning coats, our hands were folded over our groins.
‘The pose of Adam,’ Chris whispered roguishly.
A few years later, Chris, Jo, and I attended Joseph Schwartz’ requiem Mass and burial in Fox Point, Wisconsin.
We met often at Lewis-Tolkien events, at Belmont University in Nashville and the 2005 Mythopoeic Conference at Aston University, sharing a table at the Black Sheep pub with him, Jo, and Colin Manlove, and other venues. Seeing him was always a relief. I knew I’d have one kindred soul to spend the days with and one scholar whose presentations I would surely attend.
I’ll always recall the time he prayed calmly with me minutes before I spoke at the Cornerstone “Jesus People” Festival near Bushnell, Illinois, on the upcoming Jackson Tolkien films, praying for me to feel peace, the Holy Spirit, clarity, and grace in my talk there.
His passing was peaceful. He was fishing in the Colorado Rockies—something he loved—with his son-in-law Mike Lowe, Nisha’s husband—someone he loved—and suddenly, he was gone. He was only 62. One thinks of St. Joseph’s ‘happy death,’ happy except for Julie, his family, and his many bereft friends.
Always, our memories come back to that calm voice, that radiant smile, that genial laugh.
He was a gentle gentleman and a scholar’s scholar.
I always thought I’d see him again.
Not in this life.
We look forward to sharing scholarship and cheer with him in the next."
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Diana Pavlac Glyer
Professor of English, Azusa Pacific University and author of The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community
“When Warren Hamilton Lewis heard that the news that Charles Williams had died, this is what he said: ‘One often reads of people being "stunned" by bad news, and reflects idly on the absurdity of the expression; but there is more than a little truth in it. I felt just as if I had slipped and come down on my head on the pavement.’
Stunned. Stunned by bad news. Like I had slipped and fallen, hard on the pavement. When I heard that Chris Mitchell had died, that was my reaction. I remain stunned, and utterly miserable. I miss that impish grin. That bouncy walk. That warm and urgent way of speaking. That vitality. It is hard for me to resist the temptation to hop into the car, drive over to his house, and pull up a chair in his kitchen. I want to talk with Chris about this. I want him to help me make sense of this.
I admire Chris as a scholar, especially for the way he brought his deep knowledge of church history to bear on whatever topics he addressed. That gave a richness to his thinking that only perspective can bring.
I love Chris as a brother. When we met and talked, the love of Jesus radiated from that man, and I was always, always, always blessed.
I cherish Chris as a friend. And as an embodiment of friendship itself. Our conversation inevitably would circle back to people we both knew, friends we hold in common, and much of the time Chris would also be conspiring to connect me to someone new. ‘You know what would be fun,’ he would say. ‘We should get you together with….’ And then he’d name four of five people I didn’t yet know. We dwelt in possibilities. And I loved being there.
Getting people together. Bringing ideas together. Making connections and infusing them with warmth and vitality. Those were Chris Mitchell’s great gifts. Day after day and year after year, I was the glad recipient of those gifts.
Warren Lewis wrote: ‘There is something horrible, something unfair about death, which no religious conviction can overcome. “Well, goodbye, see you on Tuesday Charles” one says — and you have in fact though you don't know it, said goodbye forever. He passes up the lamplit street, and passes out of your life forever. And so vanishes one of the best and nicest men it has ever been my good fortune to meet. May God receive him into His everlasting happiness.’
Yes, that’s right. That’s exactly right. Simply this: Christopher Mitchell was one of the best and nicest men it has ever been my good fortune to meet.”
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Stepson of C.S. Lewis
“I have known Chris Mitchell for a long time, and even though we saw each other all too infrequently, his impact on my wife Merrie and I, has been considerable. He was a man full of charm and energy, and most of all filled with God's Holy Spirit, and yet at the same time, a man of humility and fun. Also, Chris always seemed equally at home in a wide variety of situations: whether zooming around in a sports car, podding broad beans in our kitchen, or climbing a tree in M'Dina the ancient Citadel of Malta, his wit, kindness and conversation never flagged, and we talked of many things. An academic, a husband, a father, but also an adventurer; a man who walked many paths and made them straight and narrow as did his Master before him. And that last is perhaps what we treasure most about Chris: he walked in the Master's footsteps carefully placing his steps so as not to wander from the path which has inevitably led him to Jesus. Alas, he has gone on ahead of us and we miss him—we will always miss him until we ourselves in our own turns go to be with him—and Him.
Malta, July 14, 2014”
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Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull
Tolkien scholars and authors of the J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide and The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion
“We are so very sorry that Chris has passed on. His kindness and help to us in our work on Tolkien and Lewis at the Wade Center were unfailing, and he was good company whether we saw him at Wheaton or elsewhere. We'll always remember how proud he was to show us around the beautiful Wade Center building at its dedication in 2001, and the interesting conversations we had with him on each visit.”
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G. Walter Hansen
Wade Center Board member
“’Lazy With the Love of Good’ is the title of the advent reflection Chris wrote for the ‘Friends of the Wade’ (Fall 2012). According to Chris, he was rescued from a ‘nasty case of cynicism’ by that short phrase found in G. K. Chesterton’s poem ‘The Truce of Christmas.’ In the final lines of his advent reflection, Chris encourages us to ‘understand that a life of goodness on earth and in heaven is nothing more and nothing less than an eternal adventure. We are invited to search out the wonders of this adventure, as well as the unfathomable depths of God, exploring both unencumbered, unrestrained, and undistracted—lazy to the extreme with the love of good.’
We believe that Chris is now, indeed, ‘unencumbered, unrestrained, and undistracted—lazy to the extreme with the love of good’ since he is now ‘absent from the body and present with the Lord.’
But we, the friends of Chris, are now grievously encumbered and distracted by the shock of losing him. How can he have left us so soon, so suddenly, and so young and vibrant?
I treasure every conversation with Chris. What a friend! He had the rare gift of being totally absorbed, ‘unrestrained and undistracted,’ in the pleasure of the present moment. His whole being radiated the sheer delight of expounding a favorite line from one of the Seven or expanding his vision for the Wade. He knew the freedom of being ‘lazy for the love of the good.’ He incited a longing for that freedom. So often ‘distracted from distraction by distraction’ (T. S. Eliot), I long for the freedom of the complete attentiveness I experienced in the presence of Chris.
But now I am distracted by his absence. When he turned 60, I assured him that from my vantage point of 65 he was still young had at least one decade or more probably two decades of productive life in front of him. I wish my prophecy had come true. But obviously I don’t have that gift. And now at a young 62, he’s gone. Absent. Yet fully present, completely attentive with the Lord. Our times are in His hands. May the Lord give us the grace to live as Chris did, ‘lazy with the love of good.’”
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Professor of Theology, Concordia University Texas, and Lewis scholar. Author of Irrigating Deserts: C.S. Lewis on Education
"Chris Mitchell was one of those major impact people whose service to the Wade Center and its constituents was selfless and unassuming, hard-working and insightful, gracious and scholarly, very much like the authors who are featured at the Wade, especially C.S. Lewis, who combined brilliance, both logical and imaginative thinking, and an ability to communicate to nearly everyone about nearly everything."
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English Professor Emeritus, Wheaton College, and VII Advisory Board member
“I greatly admired Chris for the tireless way in which he represented the authors whose works and manuscripts are collected in the Wade Center. Our mutual interest in these works made for very enjoyable conversations, sometimes in the Center, more often in the dining hall over lunch. As we said good bye at the conclusion of our last luncheon conversation together, he startled me slightly by remarking that our next meeting may well be in heaven. The earnest, matter-of-fact manner in which he made the remark bespoke the calm certainty of his faith. And so it will be.”
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Associate Professor of English, Trinity Western University; co-director, Inklings Institute of Canada; author of Surprised by the Feminine: A Rereading of C.S. Lewis and Gender
“Oh, Chris! Now?! You’ve already left us to be with the Lord?! So soon, so swiftly, you have flown! Our hearts stopped: it couldn’t be! Surely we’d wake up to find that this was all a mistake?! But your heart paused, and then you were off. ‘And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever’ (Daniel 12:3). Yes! That’s you! A teacher who followed Christ.
How many times have we prayed for help and God answered, ‘Here’s Chris! He’s the man!’? You were a master scholar and a shepherd to so many—a mentor, a brother, a midwife to our work. You came alongside us. You befriended us; you cared. We cared more because of how God’s love flowed through you. Our hopes rose higher because you helped us to better understand that we did not walk alone. How many words have been and will be spoken and printed because of how you gave of yourself so tirelessly, joyfully, sacrificially? How many hearts have been and will be blessed? You leave an amazing legacy, oh friend.
I met Chris at a Baylor conference in 2001. From that day on, as with countless others, Chris blessed me on my way, even writing a beautiful Preface for me in the last busy weeks before he left Wheaton for California. A very great gift.
Over the years Emanuel and I have been struck by how genuinely caring Chris was. His deep love for his dear Julie and their family permeated his life! His legacy is theirs: enormous. Chris remembered people. His conversation easily included, ‘Isn’t it wonderful that they…?!’ ‘Is she doing alright…?’ ‘I’m so glad that…!’ Ideas were so important to Chris because he loved people. And Chris loved people because he so deeply loved the Lord Jesus.
Chris, in life you gave us great courage and wonderful help; in dying you have emboldened us to ever look and point to the eternal. We’ll keep running our race to the finish line.
Thank you. We will miss you terribly. Aufwiedersehen! And to us, as Chris invariably ended his emails, ‘Peace to you.’”
Monika & Emanuel Hilder
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C.S. Lewis scholar, and Pastor at Scottsdale Presbyterian Church, Scottsdale, AZ
“Can it be real that Chris is no longer with us? He reveled in life. In my every interaction with him, he seemed intent on being in the moment. His ability to take in and savor each conversation, each idea, each person, each experience, and each blessing marked who he was. His delight in the day-to-day joys was compelling and infectious.
As enjoyable as his personality was, and as great as his intellectual gifts were, what stands out in my mind now are his accomplishments. Look at what he did. Chris took over the helm of the Wade Center at a time when C.S. Lewis scholars were divided by controversy. People had chosen sides. It was a dark time. Chris brought his gifts and his engaging ways to the task of healing that rift. Moreover, Chris had a handle on what he described as the ‘unexplored’ or ‘undiscovered’ C.S. Lewis. He had a vision for where Lewis studies needed to go in the future, where a more nuanced approach or a further reassessment could yield light. He led a talented team developing the infrastructure to make that academic work possible. Chris did that not only for Lewis studies, but also for the exploration and study of all seven of the British writers on which the Marion E. Wade Center is focused. Books, manuscripts, artifacts, and oral histories continued to be amassed, cataloged, and made available. Information was brought online. A marvelous building was constructed to house the collection and to welcome all who walked through its doors. Soon, an auditorium will be completed as well. The work continues.
Once, Chris spoke to me of how C.S. Lewis was a great example of a person who took all the gifts God had given him and used those gifts to the fullest for the cause of Christ. Chris Mitchell was a great example of that, too. The world is desperate for more people who would follow in their footsteps.”
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Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson
George MacDonald Scholar, VII Advisory Board member, Inklings Institute of Canada
“I first met Christopher Mitchell on a ‘Dorothy Sayers/C.S. Lewis tour’ he led for Wheaton alum, in 1997. Although not an alumna myself, my mother is and she invited me along. I confess I was mostly motivated by the free trip to England – the concept of a ‘tour’ was not attractive to me. Chris’s leadership caused me to re-evaluate.
It was two weeks of invaluable experiences: learning each day from Chris (particularly clear in my memory is his animated explanation of Sayers’ phrase ‘in which the dead leaves of doctrine danced’); delving ‘behind the scenes’ of many Inkling locales; engaging with, amongst others, George Sayer, Barbara Reynolds, Douglas Gresham, and Aidan Mackey. (I also briefly met two Kilns residents with whom I’ve since become better acquainted: my future husband Greg, and our future groomsman, Michael Ward.) During that tour Chris and I became good friends. I had never yet discussed George MacDonald (subject of my future doctoral dissertation) with anyone so well informed – nor with anyone so interested in learning more. His excitement matched mine when I found an early edition of MacDonald’s Annals of A Quiet Neighborhood during our Cambridge stop – I now recognize the concept of pastoring portrayed in that novel as one Chris himself modeled, even on that tour.
Chris and I stayed in touch, and two years later he came to our village in Oxfordshire to properly meet my new husband. Many hours of discussions about music, samplings of whiskies, and adventures on boats (of all kinds) ensued -- then, and on each subsequent visit. When in 2001 we moved to Scotland for me to begin a PhD at St. Andrews, Chris was delighted. Not only was this his alma mater, but he had loved living in the ‘East Neuk of the Kingdom of Fife’ with his young family – and what Chris loved he longed to share with others. So upon Chris’ encouragement, instead of living in the town of St. Andrews we bought a house in one of the local fishing villages … so that we could truly experience living in Scotland, not merely attend a Scottish university. He & Julie would later visit our Mitchell-influenced East Neuk home, overlooking the Firth of Forth. Greg and Chris had some highly memorable boating adventures there.
Due to health constraints my PhD was a prolonged process. Only a few months in, I was confined to bed for several months and left unable to concentrate or write. During that period Chris came to visit, and brought with him a gift to encourage me: C.S. Lewis’ personal (and marked up) set of Unspoken Sermons by George MacDonald. Chris had just come from George Sayer, who had given him the books as a donation to the Wade Center. Chris had decided to not even look inside their covers until he arrived in Scotland – he wanted me to be the first person to open the pages. He chose to delight in my delight before experiencing his own, to enjoy listening to my discoveries as I examined Lewis’ scribbles: such a typically quiet yet deeply thoughtful Chris-gift; such an incredible experience for a dispirited and physically-confined student.
We hosted Chris a few times in Fife, and he & Julie and the team at the Wade Center kindly hosted me when I came to Wheaton for research. But then we moved from Scotland, and with the busyness of life several years passed with almost no contact. Enough time, in fact, that it was declared appropriate to invite Chris to be my external examiner for my PhD viva. It had been an unintentional but serendipitous gap, as Chris was clearly the perfect choice – not only for the critical overview, but because he was better placed than most to assess the argument of how MacDonald had contributed to significant “Inklings thought.” Chris’ personal reputation was such that there was no doubt that he would approach the examination with integrity, and, if anything, with higher standards than he might for someone he did not know.
It was wonderful to be back into discussion once the viva was over, resuming our friendship, and making plans for the future. Chris made one visit up to our farm where we now live in Canada, unfortunately without Julie, whom he was keen to bring back. During that trip we dreamt up plans of books, retreats, and conferences, some of which I am all the more determined now to pursue. How precious to Greg & me both that he was here, that he is now part of our memories of this home, and also of memories shared with friends and neighbors. That unchurched teens from our community got to listen to Chris enthuse about Chesterton, as he stood dripping wet from his water-skiing venture behind their boat … that they were teased by him as we all roasted marshmallows over the campfire … these things make me deeply glad. In their minds’ eye, that is what a theology professor looks like! I love that image of him, tangibly weaving together seemingly disparate threads of life – never pulling merely from the academic spool; it is but one of the many gifts he gave and gives us.
Four months ago Greg and I were able to visit with Chris and our dear friend Matt Jensen in California. It was delightful to see and hear how much Chris loved his new job, his students, his colleagues. I was reminded that one of Chris’ gifts was the ability to choose joy. The childlikeness of which MacDonald speaks -- that which Lewis and Chesterton discuss having found in MacDonald’s work -- Chris lived. He was also one of the most humble academics I have met. Enthusiastic, but never pompous; ready to admit his own errors – not just academically, but as a human; keen for others to avoid making the same mistakes; generous, and encouraging. A student of his once said to me: ‘I’ve had a lot of “famous” professors, but Dr. Mitchell changed my life because of who he is. Instead of publishing a lot, he lives what he teaches.’ No human is a plaster saint, but Chris is a special model and mentor to me for many reasons. He believed in me and encouraged me; he was one of my greatest ‘academic advocates.’ His ardor in his own work for the beauty and goodness he found in the material, for the personhood of those involved, seemed always dominant. But especially central to Chris’ identity -- as an academic, as a human – were his relationships with others. His fervent love, admiration, and respect for Julie formed an umbrella over everything. His passionate care for each of his four children, and how inextricable they are from his very being, was unavoidable. His love for and delight in his friends, old and new, enhanced his every conversation. And I know I am but one of many who give thanks for the gift of knowing such a person.
Greg and I are still vacillating between disbelief and grief. Chris, Julie, and their family are ever-present in our hearts right now. It will be Good to be at one of the memorial services, to be with others who love him too.
Thank you for the space to reminisce, to be attentive to the multiple blessings.”
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Don W. King
Editor of the Christian Scholar’s Review and author of C.S. Lewis, Poet: The Legacy of His Poetic Impulse and Out of My Bone: The Letters of Joy Davidman
“During my many visits to the Wade Center, Chris was always warm, friendly, and hospitable. He would usually take me out to lunch at his favorite restaurant in Wheaton, and we would talk not only about Lewis and Inklings matters, but more importantly about our families—the joys, struggles, and blessings we were experiencing. While Chris’s passing leaves a big hole in Lewis scholarship, it leaves a bigger hole in my heart—and in the hearts of many others.”
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Lewis Scholar, Grateful Wade Visitor, and Friend of Chris Mitchell
“In his touching poem on the death of his dear friend, Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis penned these words:
'Your death blows a strange bugle call, friend, and all is hard / To see plainly or record truly ... It's a larger world / Than I once thought it. I wince, caught in the bleak air that blows on the ridge.'
A strange bugle call indeed has blown. Few men I have known were as full of life, and fewer still lived with such a zeal—such a sense of knowing linked with a pervasive and infectious joy – as did my friend Chris Mitchell. This spilled out into all he did—breathless conversations, eager plans for all that lay ahead, and a vigorous generosity of time and spirit. I came to count on these each time I saw him.
I personally got to know Chris during several research trips to the Wade Center and will miss him sorely. The breadth and depth of his knowledge not only of the Wade's seven authors, but also of historical theology always dazzled me. But even more, his kindness toward me and his warm hospitality both at the Wade and in the beautiful home he made with Julie and his children I count as golden moments.
My greatest memories are of much excited talk, not only of the Inklings, but also of his favorite musicians such as Béla Fleck and Phil Keaggy. It blessed me to take Chris to his first concert with Phil, the man who started me on Lewis, and to introduce these two kind men to each other. For me, each encounter with Chris was filled with life, passion, and learning, and was always marked by his incredible energy and that constant, joyful twinkle in his eyes.
Lewis said, 'When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.'
Chris Mitchell certainly embodied this principle, as well as our Lord's command to change and become like a little child. A winsomely boyish enthusiasm fueled the depths of Chris's studious wisdom. But for all this, Chris delighted most in being a dad, and in loving Julie through the years.
Once when I was visiting the Wade, Chris came to ask a favor. He had a previous commitment; would I mind taking Walter Hooper to dinner? Of course I accepted, and I'll cherish that meal for the rest of my life. Chris's commitment? Attending his son's soccer game. His commitment to the childlike remains for me a permanent and inspirational memory.
Lewis's gravestone reads, 'Men must endure their going hence.' And so must those they leave behind. Rest in peace, Chris, and rise in glory, and may light perpetual shine upon you. We who remain will struggle along as best we can to share the light you showed in this now darker world.”
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Founder of the G.K. Chesterton Study Centre, Senior Fellow of the G.K. Chesterton Library in Oxford, and recipient of the 2008 Kilby Lifetime Achievement Award
“I have had, to my high benefit, contact with the Marion E. Wade Center since the late 1970's, and for a good number of those years have known Chris Mitchell. His personal kindness to me was warming, and I am also one of the great number of people in many countries who have admired his spiritual and intellectual integrity and his Christian humility.
His wife and family can, in their loss, take honorable pride in his life and his work for others. They will remain in my prayers.”
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M.A., D.Litt. (Edinburgh), C.S. Lewis scholar and VII Advisory Board member
“Goodbye Chris, I will not forget your friendship and kindness over the years. You remember how we and Doris Myers met at that Inklings conference in Nuremberg in the 1990s, and later in various meetings at Wheaton when you became the Herr Direktor? For my part I recall most the evening in my house in Edinburgh when we argued literature and theology in a fervor of intellectual excitement; the next day wondered where we had been. Your faith, in which you clearly believed deeply, came to a blaze then, which my less transfigured mind warmed itself at. I hope my friend that you have now met with that faith's object.”
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Professor of English Emeritus, Wheaton College and author of Beyond the Shadowlands: C.S. Lewis on Heaven and Hell
“Chris had a remarkable range of gifts and talents, and they went remarkably deep. He was especially gifted in friendships, encouragement, networking, and evangelism. Jesus’ summary of all God’s law was on full display in Chris: love God; love people. I am only one of hundreds Chris personally encouraged and helped to position for ministry opportunities. As one example, I was twice invited to the C.S. Lewis Festival in Petoskey, MI, both at Chris’s suggestion.
But the time I recall with fondest memory was when Chris came to Beijing, China. We were in the second of a two-year term of university teaching. My wife, Nita, was in Singapore for the birth of our third grandchild, and I was back from Chinese New Year for the last semester of teaching. Chris came, as planned, and stayed in our spare bedroom. Chris to spoke 7 times in 5 full days, with two partial days on either side for travel. His talks included two world-class universities—Beijing (or Peking) U, China’s best, and People’s University—a packed out church gathering, and a small group. His subjects ranged from Tolkien and Lewis to the Drama of Redemption. Each talk was pitch-perfect for the audience. Climbing the Great Wall and eating in a restaurant on what were the grounds of Qing Dynasty prince, were among the side trips.
It was during that trip that Wesley Hill called for counsel on publishing what would become his book, Washed and Waiting. I learned from Wes that Chris had been his chief counselor both during his time at Wheaton College and after. A Romanian scholar said of Chris: ‘My husband and I spent just one hour with him three years ago, and our lives have been so much changed and blessed through him. He understood and got so excited about the vision even though he didn't know about us. And, he was the one who has been carrying it in every way. He introduced me to Mr. Hooper and Mr. Ward and encouraged me to visit them in Oxford, and meeting them led to the Symposium [in Romania—the first]. He recommended me to the Inklings Society from Germany, and encouraged me to contact you. He insisted that I would apply for this program and gave me strong recommendation, even when I didn't even dare to dream that studying at The Wade would be possible for me.
His words: “Take heart, Denise!” have been the most powerful encouragement words I have ever received!’ And that is from a one-hour meeting (and lots of emails to many, no doubt)! He probably networked like this virtually every day.
Though Chris touched hundreds of lives personally (easily thousands, if the groups are counted), it was clear time and time again in our talks that Julie was the light of his life, along with the family he adored. We spent time praying for each other and each family member. I have been ennobled by his presence in my life. I will be one raising a voice with the many in Glory to thank God for blessing me through Chris.
Grateful for Chris”
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Mark A. Noll
Fred & Carolyn McManis Professor of Christian Thought emeritus, Wheaton College; Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History, University of Notre Dame
“It was a real treat getting to know Chris Mitchell when he did a master's degree in church history at Wheaton. Chris was the rare serious-minded student who needed a little bit of refinement as he pursued his interests, but nothing at all from the faculty for insights, energy, dedication, and seriousness of purpose. His master's thesis, on Jonathan Edwards' writing on the atonement, paved the way for his very fine dissertation at St. Andrews on broader themes in Edwards' thought.
When Chris returned to Wheaton as Director of the Wade Center, it was a real bonus to share the fruits of his expertise on Edwards, and of theology in general. But of course in our many conversations, the subjects more often concerned C.S. Lewis and his associates. I very much appreciated his excellent historical sleuthing on the workings of the Socratic Club; he also set me straight on several aspects of the famous Elizabeth Anscombe-Lewis exchange that I had misunderstood, or probably never understood in the first place. Again, the combination of real seriousness about his promotion of the Wade authors and his gentle, open, loving spirit in dealings with all sorts (from lofty scholars to indifferent school children, and from indifferent scholars to eager schoolchildren, too) made him ideal for that work. I know I join a great number who continue to feel Chris' unexpected death as a shocking loss, but also in giving thanks to God for his faithfulness to Chris and his family, and through Chris to such a wide circle of students, friends, and associates.”
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John D. Rateliff
Tolkien scholar, and author of The History of The Hobbit
“I was surprised and saddened to hear of the sudden death of Chris Mitchell, former director of the Wade. I'd known Chris for going on twenty years, ever since he first came to Wheaton. I didn't see him often, usually once or twice a year—during what have become yearly visits to do research in the Wade on various projects, and also (most years) at a yearly gathering where we would get together, along with several other like-minded folk, and exchange notes about our respective current projects.
In his public persona, Chris did a great job as Director of the Wade, shifting the earlier emphasis from collecting to making the material already there more accessible. By temperament a peacemaker, he smoothed over a long-standing feud among factions of Lewis scholars. I sometimes think we, as Christians, put forward an unappealing face to the world: angry, intolerant, judgmental. Chris was the sort of person comfortable in his own beliefs who felt no need to attack the beliefs of others; a man who lived his religion, setting a good example to us all. He genuinely liked people and enjoyed meeting new people. This made him a good representative for the Wade; it also made him a person people enjoyed spending time with.
Over time he grew tired of administration: being the public face of the Wade left little time for his own scholarship (he had a solid background in theology, with a special interest in Jonathan Edwards, from his beloved St. Andrews) and he also wanted to return to teaching. Given that he could explain C.S. Lewis's ideas rather better than Lewis himself could, I was very much looking forward to the works he would have produced, given time. I'm glad he got the chance to make the change, and it was clear to see how much he was enjoying the new life on the West Coast, closer to his beloved Pacific Northwest. I'm only sorry he didn't have more time: to enjoy teaching, to write more books on Lewis (and Lewis & Tolkien, et al.), to hike and fish and enjoy the great outdoors he loved so much.
He was a good man. A born teacher. A scholar with things to say. I'm glad I got to know him. I'll miss him.”
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Professor of English, Hope College, VII Advisory Board member, and author of Is Your Lord Large Enough?: How C. S. Lewis Expands Our View of God and Imagination and the Arts in C.S. Lewis: Journeying to Narnia and Other Worlds
“I was stunned and deeply saddened by the news of Chris's unexpected death. He was a good friend. I enjoyed spending time with him, and have especially fond memories of conversations with him at the C.S. Lewis Festival in Petoskey, Michigan. I admired his leadership at the Wade Center, which prospered greatly while he was Director. And I appreciate all the help he gave me in my work on Lewis. He was extraordinarily generous with his time and his extensive knowledge of C.S. Lewis and the other Inklings. I will miss him greatly.”
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Archivist of the Wade Center
“I was blessed by Chris in several capacities between 1999 and 2014. I knew him first as my teacher when I was a Wheaton College student and Wade Center student worker, and by the time he left the Wade in 2013 I had been the Wade Center Archivist for 8 years working alongside him as a colleague.
As a teacher, Chris showed me the seamless interaction between literature and theology like few others could. I was shown the beauty, hope, truth, and goodness offered through the works of the Wade authors, especially Tolkien’s works, and drawn right back with a childlike awe to the Lord to Whom all the stories pointed. He helped me live more fully in this world and refined my faith by walking through paths in the perilous realms of faërie.
As a colleague at the Wade Center, he was a kind and generous employer who demonstrated servant leadership. When I was assessing something like a broken file cabinet drawer, Chris would be on his knees beside me troubleshooting the situation and often taking the task over himself. He removed snow from our cars in the winter if he made it into the parking lot before we did. He prayed with us and for us. When visitors came, he would gleefully show them around the building and upon introducing them to staff members would shuffle his feet and say with a grin, ‘Don’t I have the most wonderful staff?’ For me, Chris (along with Marjorie Mead, of course) was until 2013 synonymous with what the Wade Center WAS, and although it is no longer directly connected to him, his time here helped to make the Wade one of the dearest places to me on this earth.
As a friend and a mentor, Chris took me the first time to Marquette University to see the original Lord of the Rings and Hobbit manuscripts (I have returned in many subsequent visits with other pilgrims wishing to pay homage to those texts). He gave me opportunities to teach and grow. He listened to my concerns and prayed with me. And he aided me in that precarious journey during college where faith convictions become one’s own, where identity as an adult is being forged, and where life passions and careers come into focus. He helped me in all of these areas, so much so that I can’t think about who I am today without seeing his influence and guidance. He also made me hunger for heaven and being with the Lord he loved so well. I’m glad he’s there now, and is making that place more real to me than ever. He took a piece of me with him.
Thank you for all these remembrances and for so much more, Chris. The seeds you have sewn here will continue to grow for God’s glory. In Niggle’s words from Tolkien’s short story ‘Leaf by Niggle’ (a story Chris loved): ‘It’s a gift!’
A fuller version of this tribute is available here.”
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Professor of history at Christendom College, VII Advisory Board member, and author of The Third Spring: G.K. Chesterton, Graham Greene, Christopher Dawson, and David Jones
“Chris Mitchell was one of the finest people I have ever known. Over nearly two decades of academic collaboration and personal friendship, I came to admire his work as a scholar and his gift for substantive, enduring relationships.
Although not initially an expert on the Wade Center authors, Chris used well his training as a historian of religious thought to offer sophisticated insights into their writings, and thus help present their work as a serious contribution to modern culture. For instance, his scholarship on C.S. Lewis and the Socratic Club at Oxford gave important historical and intellectual context to an underappreciated aspect of Lewis's career. The edition of The Abolition of Man that he was completing would likewise have provided crucial theological and philosophical information on one of Lewis's greatest works. Chris's ever-active mind and his eager integration of faith and reason was infectious and inspirational to all who read his work, heard him speak at conferences, or shared conversation with him.
At a personal level, I treasured Chris's joy and warm, welcoming attitude from the day I met him in 1996. He seemed to treat all he met as potential friends, and he soon became a cherished one to me. He was instrumental in introducing my wife and me, and even served as a groomsman at our wedding. He took an ongoing, active interest in our lives and those of our sons subsequently, even after we left Wheaton. Each encounter with him over those eighteen years, whether in person or via phone or email, was an occasion when ‘heart spoke unto heart’ about profound and permanent things, but also about the passing joys and sorrows of everyday life. In that sense, friendship with Chris was one long conversation, interrupted by absences but always resumed with enthusiasm and affection even months and years later. To paraphrase Evelyn Waugh, there was no past tense in Chris's enactment of the verb ‘to love.’
One of Chris's favorite phrases was G.K. Chesterton's call to be ‘lazy with the love of good.’ I pray that Chris is now enjoying that eternal repose with the Lord of all good whom he loved so well.”
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Head of Public Services / Archivist of the Wade Center, 2001-2013
“It is intimidating to write a tribute which will appear alongside the remembrances of world-renowned writers and scholars. I don’t aspire to join either of those categories. But I am in the group that called Chris Mitchell friend, mentor and more. Chris and I worked together at the Wade Center for 12 years. And two categories stand out as I look back on his impact on me.
I was personally impacted by Chris’s desire to value and grow people as individuals. As I said, I am not a scholar. But Chris recognized and valued my administrative gifts, which allowed me to flourish in my role at the Wade as I supported the scholarship of the Inklings community. His belief in me was invigorating. I was privileged to participate in important advancements at the Wade Center because Chris trusted and supported me. I take that confidence with me as I forge ahead in the path God has led me to pursue.
In addition, I am a Learner. I learned so much from Chris over our morning coffee at the Wade Center (yes, the coffee/tea preference actually was a question that made its way into job interviews…alas, Chris and I remained the only two early-morning coffee drinkers all those years). Through words and example, Chris demonstrated the power and joy of a life committed to Christ, to Truth – in his discoveries as a scholar, as a husband and father, with his friends, in his church. He strived to be the real deal in all areas of his life. He was willing to be vulnerable as he searched, struggled, grew in these ways.
How often did I saunter into his office with my morning coffee, and he’d say, 'Oh wait, let me go pour mine.' (He used a Chesterton quote mug; mine displayed the Dewey decimal classification for COFFEE). Once we settled in, I’d introduce some policy, personnel or budget concern, about which we dialogued. And then he’d delay me with his latest nugget for the upcoming Tolkien/MacDonald/Lewis lecture. Wow…for an administrator that loves to learn, it doesn’t get any better than that. Thanks be to God for His work through Chris in me, in each of us.”
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Senior Research Fellow, Blackfriars Hall, Oxford University and author of Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis
"’Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.’ That line from the Beatitudes is what often came to mind when I thought of Chris and how he did his work and lived his life, and it's what I give thanks for now as I mourn his terribly sudden death. He was a national and international peacemaker in the sometimes territorial world of Inklings scholarship, and he brought peace not by flattery or bromides, still less by calculating diplomacy, but simply by being an honest and good man whom everyone liked and trusted. ‘Bid ben bid bont,’ as the Welsh say, – he who would be a leader must be a bridge: and Chris built bridges by being a bridge in his own person – open, connected, strong, safe, with valuable views. He was a truly humble servant of his vocation, and during his nineteen years as Director of the Wade Center consolidated and extended its reputation, both academically and pastorally – a rare double achievement. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.”
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Richard C. West
Tolkien scholar and Senior Academic Librarian Emeritus, University of Wisconsin-Madison
“I first met Chris soon after he began as Director of the Wade Center. We would always get together on my research visits to the Wade, where he and the staff were unfailingly helpful, and we also saw each other occasionally at conferences. He was hugely knowledgeable about the authors memorialized at the Wade, and we had many interesting and valuable conversations about all seven of them, and more broadly about our mutual passion for literature and Christianity. He was a valued colleague whom I shall miss terribly for that reason alone. But more than that, we became good friends, sharing thoughts and praying for each other's concerns.
God bless you, Chris. I'll always remember your erudition and warmth and goodness. I shall go on praying for you and your family.