'Oxfordshire has lost a true and formidable leader' - obituary for Keith Ronald Mitchell CBE

Keith Ronald Mitchell CBE.Keith Ronald Mitchell CBE.
Keith Ronald Mitchell CBE.
Here is a tribute written by his friend and colleague Cllr Kieron Mallon

Obituary: Keith Ronald Mitchell CBE

Written by Kieron Mallon

Born: 09/07/1946

Died: 26/08/2020

Former leader of Oxfordshire County Council, businessman, public servant and Freemason Keith Mitchell has died following a determined fight against cancer.

Keith Ronald Mitchell was born in Chingford, Essex, the family moved shortly afterwards to Harrow where he attended Buckingham College. Keith was the first to say he wasn’t the sporting type but 'a bit of a swot'. By the age of 15 Keith had achieved seven Ordinary Level GCEs.

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He left school at 16 to become an articled clerk with Payne Stone Frazer, chartered accountants. Passing all his exams at first sitting, qualifying as a chartered accountant aged 21.

Away from the office Keith was a mean hand on the pool table, winning a sovereign ring in a wager with someone who was rumoured to be connected with an East End gang.

Having been head hunted Keith joined the London School of Accountancy. Then honed these skills as an equity partner at the Accountancy Tuition Centre, thus developing the communication skills that would stand him in good stead in later years. It was at this time aged 31 that Keith became a London Freemason.

Keith sold his stake in his business in 1990 aged 44 and retired for the first time, to live in Adderbury, south of Banbury with his partner, Lynda Smart. Keith then put his considerable energies into new pursuits, namely public service and politics. First elected as a Conservative for the Bloxham Division of Oxfordshire County Council in 1989 specialising in social services, health and of course, finance. Keith was also a member of Cherwell District Council, first elected in 1990.

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Keith became Conservative group leader on OCC in 1999 and immediately brought a motion to council decrying the state of the Union flag then flying over County Hall. Keith was one of the councillors everyone, officers and opposition members listened to when on his feet, they may not have always agreed with what he said but it was always well worth listening to.

He was renowned for his commitment to any cause he thought right, sometimes not afraid to make enemies. He seemed to fit 26 hours into every day and rarely ever took a holiday. Keith Mitchell became leader of Oxfordshire County Council in 2001, first in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats which everyone thought would not last but Keith also showed a strategic and diplomatic side during the four year administration. The Conservatives gained overall control in 1995 and Keith remained as leader until he voluntarily stepped down in 2012 not seeking re-election to the council in 2013 after 24 years service. Keith was appointed CBE for his services to politics and community.

Keith continued his public service in many ways. He became a parish councillor and used his financial and business skills to assist good causes, most noticeably in becoming the chairman of the Mill Performing Arts Centre in Banbury. This was haemorrhaging money and reliant on funding from Oxfordshire and Cherwell councils. Keith turned the centre upside down, put in sound

financial measures and led it towards trust status, self determination and financial control outside the straight jacket of council interference, a genuine gamekeeper turned poacher.

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Keith loved the countryside and country pursuits, did not suffer fools, at all. Could be a formidable opponent and caring friend and mentor, sometimes at the same time and to the same person.

Keith first told a few close friends of his illness in early January of 2020. Oxfordshire has lost a true and formidable leader. Many, including myself, have lost a good and loyal friend.

He lived respected, died regretted.

By Kieron Mallon

Click here to read more about Keith Mitchell