UPDATE: A public memorial for Mitchell will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, May 19, at Miami Theater Center, 9806 NE Second Ave., Miami Shores. Mitchell died May 10 of natural causes according to her husband, Kirk Wade.
In the new era of bold and bloody newscasts, anchor Kelley Mitchell was at the center of the drama.
At Channel 7 in the 1990s and later Channel 10, Mitchell ruled the airwaves with a friendly, perfectionist manner. In working with WSVN anchor mate Rick Sanchez, she chronicled only-in-Miami moments with the gravity they deserved mixed with cheeky irreverence.
“She worked her butt off to understand the topic but would end it with a quip,” Sanchez said.
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Soon Mitchell would become the story, sharing with WPLG viewers her battle with breast cancer.
Mitchell died on Sunday night at home. She was 58.
Mitchell and her husband, Kirk Wade, chief photographer for WSVN, were together in their Miami Shores home when they exchanged glances and Mitchell suddenly collapsed.
“The one blessing is that I was home with her,” he said, fighting tears. “Over the years Kelley was so sick so many times and she was such a warrior. She fought through breast cancer, she fought through pneumonia and other illnesses and was in and out of the hospital so many times. … She won so many large battles. She always had the will to survive and sometimes, maybe sometimes, your body says, ‘You’re done.’ ”
In 2002, Mitchell was diagnosed with breast cancer. She disclosed her illness — with a classic Mitchell-ism — in a memo to WPLG colleagues: “I know, right now you’re saying, ‘Gee, I didn’t even know she HAD breasts.’ She spoke at breast cancer events, her feisty manner ever on display.
“I’m approaching the all-important five-year anniversary as a survivor,” Mitchell said in a 2007 Herald story. “I celebrate every mammogram I clear by going to Hooters. I want to take ‘the girls’ to a place where they can be celebrated.”
Her honeymoon in 2009 with Wade went on hold because a day after they wed she had to return to Jackson Memorial Hospital where she had been in intensive care for a host of ailments.
“One day it’s the gall bladder, one day it’s the kidneys, one day it’s the liver,” she said in a 2009 Miami Herald story. In June 2014, Mitchell was treated for a collapsed right lung.
Still, news of Mitchell’s sudden death stunned fans and former colleagues.
“She was a delight to work with because she had an old-world sense about broadcast news which, in many ways, is sorely missed today,” said Sanchez, her colleague at WSVN when the station dominated South Florida television airwaves in the 1990s with its focus on murder and mayhem.
Mitchell, an Oklahoma City native and a graduate of University of Oklahoma’s journalism school, didn’t want to be simply a “news reader.” As the daughter of a teacher, she had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, Sanchez recalled. “She wanted to engage and understand the market.”
One day Sanchez walked into the newsroom and there was Mitchell, sitting amid a bunch of maps of Miami, deep in concentration. Interest piqued, he had to ask what, exactly, she was doing.
“‘I want to learn to pronounce every street name in this town,’” she said.
“She was a perfectionist in how she covered the news. The one quality she had that stood out for me was that it bothered her when things weren’t right. … She went after [news] with a true journalist’s heart,” Sanchez said.
Mitchell worked at WLRN-91.3 FM from 2011 to early 2015 doing the afternoon newscasts. She also reported on Latin American news for Nuestra Tele Noticias 24 Horas-NTN24. Most recently, Mitchell filled in on WIOD-610 AM.
WSVN anchor Craig Stevens was a rookie from Fort Myers when he started working with Mitchell in 1992 during her seven years at WSVN as evening news co-anchor.
“She took an interest in me and my work: the reporting, the writing, the presentation. She helped me with all of it,” Stevens said. “Her passion to tell a story and tell it well drove all of us harder. We wanted to please her. When we did, her praise was thoughtful and genuine. If we fell short, she made sure we knew how to do a better job the next time. As a friend, she’d move mountains if that’s what you needed.”
That was Kelley Mitchell. She told momentous news stories, she told smaller stories. She moved mountains.
For everyone. Including Oscar. Her Corgi.
“I’m not sure I really ‘battled’ breast cancer back in 2002, as much as it battled me. But after a year of two rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, cancer and I agreed to a draw. We went back to our respective corners, both tired of this fight,” she wrote in a November 2014 Miami Herald story.
But Mitchell had another round to go. “Not for me. For my dog, my Love Bucket, my Oscar,” she wrote in the Herald feature, Chemo for a Corgi. “We will fight once again, Oscar. And we will win. Mommy says so.”
Mitchell’s witty, moving and funny posts on Facebook also proved a must read. On Monday, her followers filled her pages with messages of gratitude and love.
Her husband didn’t have a Facebook account. Mitchell would admonish him regularly: How could they possibly communicate?
Wade reveals a common sight in their Miami Shores home: “Dog Mom” tapping missives to the world with her dogs at her side on the couch. “She’d sit in the living room and say to me, ‘You should get on Facebook, you’d know a lot more about me.’ I’d say, ‘We’ve been hanging out since 1992, is there more to know? We could just yell across the living room.’ She’d say, ‘No, it would be funnier.’”
That, too, sounds like Mitchell.
“I sat next to her for a few years when I was at Channel 10 and I can remember laughing at her quick wit every day,” said CBS4 entertainment reporter Lisa Petrillo. Mitchell joined Channel 10 in July 1998.
“She always had a turn of phrase, or an observation about something that only she could turn into that would be so funny, we would all break out in laughter,” Petrillo said. “That being said, when it came to doing a story she was a spot-on journalist who was a perfectionist about what she presented on the air. Everyone could always learn something from her.”
Mitchell is survived by her husband and her beloved dogs, Oscar and Felix.
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