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Lions Club honors Billy Mitchell

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Billy Mitchell of Galax devoted much of his life to helping the Lions Club, until his health forced him to stop. Last week, the club honored his service.

By SHAINA STOCKTON, Staff

The Lions Club of Galax met last Tuesday to bestow honorary membership to former active member Billy Mitchell, who lost his vision in 1955 but never lost his drive to help the organization’s efforts to protect the gift of sight.
“When people think of The Lion’s Club, they think of Billy Mitchell,” said Kent Cox of the club.
Friends, family and club members gathered in celebration of the event, where they shared stories about Mitchell’s many years of service to the Galax community.
The club met at The Diner in West Galax for dinner, followed by a club meeting that ended with a special program put together for Mitchell.
After several members gave touching speeches, Cox awarded Mitchell with a certificate of honorary membership, the highest level of recognition the club has to offer.
Mitchell joined the Lion’s Club in 1974, after two different accidents left him without his sight. He was helped by the club in many ways, and in turn gave back to them through years of dedicated service.
“So much of it has left me,” Mitchell said of his memories of club service. His daughter, Linda Richardson, helped him recall details as different subjects came up throughout the evening.
At age 17, Mitchell was hit with a ball during a game, which began causing him problems with his eyesight. Then, in 1955, he was involved in a truck accident that left him blind. He was 27 years old.
“He didn’t let any of it stop him,” said fellow member and childhood friend Janice Wensel.
Mary Coleson, another member, said that even after his accident, Mitchell remained an employee at Wonderknit for 14 years.
He was later introduced to The Lion’s Club by fellow member Ed Barker.
The club helped Mitchell in many ways, including assistance in finding five different lead dogs. The dogs gave him independence and the freedom to walk all over Galax.
“I had three German shepherds and two labrador retrievers,” said Mitchell.
Richardson said that German shepherds had proven to be more reliable. He gave up his last dog 6 years ago.
Mitchell quickly became a favorite with the public at fundraising events. “On White Cane Days [an annual Lion’s Club event], people would come out just to talk to Billy,” Wensel said. “Everybody knew who he was. This year, the question we kept hearing was, ‘Where’s Billy?’”
Due to health problems, Mitchell had to stop serving as an active member of the club. However, club members felt that he embodied what their club is all about, and agreed that he deserved an honorary membership.
Tears from Mitchell’s family and friends were shed as Cox presented his award.
Mitchell spoke with heavy emotion as he thanked the club for the honor. “You will never know how much this means to me,” he said. “I will always do what I can to help anyone who needs it.”