In memoriam: F. Gordon Mitchell
Namesake of the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center’s postharvest center, F. Gordon Mitchell, died in February. He was 88.
Mr. Mitchell began his distinguished career with the University of California Cooperative Extension immediately following graduation from college in 1949. He was the viticulture advisor in San Joaquin County for eight years before taking a position as statewide pomology specialist at UC Davis in 1957.
During his career, Mr. Mitchell’s work resulted in an industry-wide change to rapid cooling methods, the improvement in fruit packing efficiency, and greater understanding among farmers about the requirements of produce during the postharvest time period. He worked primarily on plums, peaches, nectarines, cherries, pears, strawberries, applies and kiwifruit, however, during his 42-year career conducted research on virtually all pomological commodities.
Mr. Mitchell retired in 1991. When Dinuba farmer/packer LeRoy Giannini contributed funds to build the new postharvest laboratory at Kearney, he suggested naming the building after Mr. Mitchell. On Feb. 8, 1993, the facility was christened the F. Gordon Mitchell Postharvest center.
Emeritus UC Cooperative Extension specialist Jim Thompson of the UC Davis Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering said Mr. Mitchell worked tirelessly with the California agriculture industry to improve the market for the state’s fresh fruits and tree nuts.
“He developed the early concepts and standards for handling California Granny Smith and Fuji apples, kiwifruit, and pistachio nuts,” Thompson said. “When the tree fruit industry had questions about postharvest issues, their first phone call was to Gordon."
UC Cooperative Extension postharvest horticulturist Mary Lu Arpaia, who is based at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, counts Mr. Mitchell as a mentor and guidepost for her career.
“Sometimes the best things in life that happen to you are unplanned,” Arpaia said about taking a job in the UC Davis postharvest lab when she was a graduate student. “That job was with Gordon and that was serendipity. When I think back on that one event I know it was one of the most important events in my graduate career and subsequent adventures in life.”
Arpaia said Mr. Mitchell’s work with his colleagues with forced air cooling and packaging established him to be a leader, “albeit a soft spoken one,” in the field of postharvest handling.
Mr. Mitchell was a Davis resident for 55 years. The family obituary described him as a gentle and devoted soul who took great pride in his faith, family and career. Mr. Mitchell is survived by his sister, two sons, a daughter and six grandchildren.
Gordon Mitchell (left) with post harvest scientist Carlos Crisosto in front of the F. Gordon Mitchell Postharvest Center at Kearney.