Edith Mitchell, medical oncologist, champion of health equity, and brigadier general, dies at 76

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Edith P. Mitchell, a medical oncologist, champion of health equity, and the first woman physician to attain the rank of U.S. Air Force brigadier general, died unexpectedly Jan. 21. She was 76. 

Painting of Edith Mitchell holding an award.
“Edith P. Mitchell, MD” – oil on linen, painted by Joseph Q. Daily for Jefferson Health.

Mitchell, who was returning home from the American Society of Clinical Oncology Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium, collapsed at the Philadelphia International Airport after disembarking a red-eye flight.

She was the director of the Center to Eliminate Cancer Disparities, a professor of medicine and medical oncology, and the enterprise vice president for cancer disparities at Jefferson Health’s Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center.  

Mitchell was also the 116th president of the National Medical Association and was appointed to the President’s Cancer Panel from 2019-2023 (The Cancer Letter, Sept. 4, 2015; Dec. 9, 2019).

“The world lost a giant Sunday, but heaven most certainly gained an angel in Dr. Mitchell,” said Robert Winn, director of VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Lipman Chair in oncology. “It’s impossible to measure her many contributions to the fight for health equity in terms of quantity; it is abundantly clear in the quality of life she provided to generations of people who in the past would not have had access to health care due to their race, ethnicity or socioeconomic circumstance.

“Dr. Mitchell was a leader in oncology and a leader in life. She created a model for a life worth living and inspired us all.”

Mitchell’s work was driven by dedication to eliminating health disparities, said Andrew Chapman, director of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center and executive vice president of Cancer Research and Oncology Services at Jefferson Health. 

“Dr. Mitchell has had an extraordinary career dedicated to eliminating health disparities affecting too many individuals and communities in the Philadelphia area and beyond,” Andrew Chapman, director of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center and executive vice president of Cancer Research and Oncology Services at Jefferson Health, said to The Cancer Letter

Mitchell’s work with community health providers helped increase minority participation in clinical trials, Chapman said. Mitchell also helped people in neighborhoods that lacked preventive care to get cancer screenings. 

“Her work both on the local and national levels has been monumental and she will be deeply missed,” Chapman said.  

Edith Mitchell and Karen Knudsen smile while standing next to one another.
Edith Mitchell and Karen Knudsen, former director of Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center and current CEO of American Cancer Society, at the Jefferson Gala in 2018. 

Mitchell was a one of a kind, said Karen Knudsen, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society and ACS Cancer Action Network. Knudsen is the former executive vice president of Oncology Services and enterprise director for Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson Health.

“Dr. Mitchell was a woman before her time in recognizing the need to not just work in—but with—communities, and in doing so dramatically increased access to cancer prevention, cancer screening, and cancer cures in our own home city of Philadelphia and beyond,” Knudsen said. “The warm, wonderful Dr. Edith Mitchell left an indelible mark on the cancer community, and as a result, the world is a better place. Her example will continue to inspire, and I am grateful to have known and loved her.” 

Mitchell was a pioneer of improving care in underserved communities and was passionate about increasing the number of minority cancer care providers, said Lori Pierce, vice provost for academic and faculty affairs, and professor of radiation oncology at University of Michigan. 

“Her passion for representing those who could not represent themselves shone through everything she did,” she said. “Dr. Mitchell was a force in oncology and was an inspiration to so many, including me. I will miss her sharp wit and her laser focus on doing what is right. Her legacy will inspire us all to be better doctors, more inclusive care providers, and better people.”

“Her commitment to diversity and her impact on advancing health equity are truly beyond measure,” said Sanya A. Springfield, director of NCI’s Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities.

Richard L. Schilsky, principal investigator of the ASCO TAPUR Study and professor emeritus at University of Chicago, met Mitchell in the early 1980s, when they were both young oncologists on the faculty at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine. 

“Edith was, first and foremost, a terrific clinician, always with the interests of her patients top of mind,” he said. “She was an active clinical investigator and an exceptional mentor and role model, particularly for medical students. A champion for health equity long before it became fashionable, Edith believed fervently in every person’s right to access high quality health care.” 

Schilsky recalls Mitchell’s humility.

“What always struck me most about Edith was her demeanor—calm, warm, compassionate, never one to tout any of her significant accomplishments, and always there for those who needed a helping hand,” he said. “She was a great friend and I feel privileged to have known her.”

Otis W. Brawley, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Oncology and Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, first met Mitchell through a family connection. “I was fortunate that she, my older sister and my brother-in-law were friends from their days at Tennessee State University,” he said.

As an oncologist, Brawley developed a deep admiration for Mitchell. 

“For my entire professional life, Gen. Edith Mitchell has been a friend and an idol. It is harder for Blacks to make it in medicine. It is perhaps even harder for women to make it in medicine,” Brawley said. “It is certainly harder for Black women. Edith made it.”

Friends were shell-shocked by Mitchell’s death. 

“Whatever happened to her was sudden. I sat next to her at a meeting on Thursday night at GI ASCO and she was her usual, garrulous self,” said Richard Goldberg, former director of the West Virginia University Cancer Institute. “So, her passing was a real surprise. Edith spent her long and productive career from her childhood on a farm in Virginia through her final ASCO meeting this weekend breaking new ground and making friends along the way. It was delightful to see our community recognize her for those achievements in recent years.”

“When I grow up, I’m going to be a doctor.”

Born in 1947, Mitchell grew up on a farm in Brownsville, TN, during segregation.

From the age of three, when her great-grandfather became sick, she knew she wanted to be a doctor who fought against disparities.

“I overheard family members talking, that they couldn’t take him to the hospital, because they didn’t take care of Black people really well,” she said to The Cancer Letter. “A very elegant gentleman who was an African American physician came by the house for a house call… when he left, I told my great-grandfather, ‘Pa, when I grow up, I’m going to be a doctor. I’ll make sure you get good care’” (The Cancer Letter, Feb. 18, 2022).

After receiving her bachelor’s degree from Tennessee State University, Mitchell enrolled in the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond in 1971. MCV later became Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. 

There, Mitchell studied under Walter Lawrence, a surgical oncologist and founding director of what is now VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center (The Cancer Letter, Aug. 6, 2020).

“Only select students could do surgery on Dr. Lawrence’s service,” Mitchell said. 

At the time, Black patients at MCV were treated at the E.G. Williams Hospital, and patients were seen in different areas based on race.

“It was the situation where the Black patients were in one hospital, the whites were in another, and if a patient requested that this little Black girl not be a part of their medical team, Dr. Lawrence never went along with it,” she said. “And the patients could not elect to have me omitted from their care because of my skin.”   

Mitchell was the first Black student to graduate from VCU’s three-year program. While she was a medical student, she entered the U.S. Air Force and received a commission through the Health Professions Scholarship Program. 

She entered active duty following an internship and residency at Meharry Medical College and a fellowship at Georgetown University. 

Throughout her career, Mitchell was outspoken about the injustice of health disparities, as well as racism against Black doctors. She spoke with The Cancer Letter about the #WhiteCoats4BlackLives movement in medicine, which grew momentum in 2020 (The Cancer Letter, June 12, 2020).

As a sophomore medical student in 1972, Mitchell recalled being fitted for her white coat. 

The seamstress asked: “Are you going to like working in the kitchen at the hospital?” 

“I was there to get my white coat, and they offered me a white dress,” she said.  

Mitchell said some patients and medical staff are still racist against Black doctors—in some cases, they are mistaken for orderlies and asked to transport patients. 

“We’ve got to be anti-racist, and every person in their position, in the medical field, needs to speak out, step out and do what we need to do so that we are removing the knee from the neck in all areas,” Mitchell said. “We can therefore face a world of equity, health care equity, for all. It’s not only ethically the right thing to do, but for this country—for health care, for all, it’s the best instance.” 

The first report demonstrating health disparities between white and Black patients came out in 1974, Mitchell said. 

“A few years later, we collected and reported data on many other races and ethnicities, so that we know where our people are located, what kind of disease processes are developing in communities, and therefore we can specifically target programs for individuals,” she said. 

Brigadier general

Edith Mitchell in uniform.

Mitchell’s vast range of accomplishments included a certification in aerospace medicine.

“Many know of Edith’s exploits in medicine, with ECOG (later ECOG-ACRIN), the National Medical Association, and the President’s Cancer Panel,” Brawley said. “Her military service was something that many in oncology are less aware of.

“Both she and her husband Delmar were Air Force officers. He was once assigned to the Presidential Executive Wing and flew Air Force One. She was an Air Force flight surgeon. Yes, Gen. Mitchell piloted planes! For the past 15 years I have always referred to her as ‘General Mitchell.’ She was the first female physician in the Air Force or Air Force Reserve or Air National Guard to be promoted to brigadier general. 

“Well done, ma’am!”

After more than 20 years in the Air Force, Mitchell was considering retirement. A colonel at the time, she received a phone call that she could be eligible to become a general.  

Her competition was mostly white men, she said. To be considered, Mitchell would have to attend flight school. 

“Most people go to flight school in their 20s; right? I was in my 40s, with two teenage kids. So what did I do?” she said. “I signed up for flight school. I finished. I got my flight wings and my certification in aerospace medicine.”

Mitchell recalls giving a lecture some time after, in which she was introduced as the first Black woman doctor to become brigadier general.

For my entire professional life, Gen. Edith Mitchell has been a friend and an idol. It is harder for Blacks to make it in medicine. It is perhaps even harder for women to make it in medicine. It is certainly harder for Black women. Edith made it.

Otis W. Brawley

Mitchell responded: 

“My genomic test says that I have a percentage of white genes. So, I’m the first white woman doctor to be promoted to the rank of brigadier general in the history of the Air Force, too,” she said. “After that I really didn’t have to make a talk.”

Mitchell helped underserved communities throughout her career.

During the 1993 flooding in Mississippi and Missouri, Mitchell helped set up microbiology laboratories to test well water for harmful bacteria, according to the ASCO Daily News

In St. Louis, Mitchell administered hepatitis vaccines and gave out safe drinking water. Subsequently, she was named State Air Surgeon for Missouri and helped establish guidelines for resources and medical care.

While in Missouri, Mitchell also worked at a volunteer clinic that served a remote farming population. People living there were found to have a high incidence of sickle cell disease, and would seek care at the University of Missouri.  

The clinic was six hours from her home, but Mitchell would drive there the day before, see patients the following day, and return home in the evening. 

“Working with individuals who try to provide medical care to people who don’t have access to care has been a big part of my professional life,” she said to the ASCO Daily News. “Volunteering for these clinics has been so important because there are so many individuals who want medical care but don’t have access to it, and they are so appreciative for what we can do for them.” 

Mitchell spoke with The Cancer Letter several times throughout her career—about her own history, combatting racism, and on the future of the field.

In one interview with VCU’s Winn, Mitchell reflected on the signing of the National Cancer Act in 1971, which established the National Cancer Program.  

Quoting writer and activist James Baldwin, Mitchell said: “Know from whence you came. And if you know from whence you came, there is no limit to where you can go.” 

Leadership and achievements

Joe Biden talking to Edith Mitchell in a crowded room.
Joe Biden talking to Edith Mitchell in a crowded room.

 President Joe Biden and Edith Mitchell at a Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel meeting in 2016.

As president of the National Medical Association, Mitchell created an action plan to increase the number of Black oncology fellows—who account for only 3% of all medical students, said Yolanda Lawson, president of the National Medical Association. 

“She influenced the lives and professional careers of countless individuals,” Lawson said. “She will be terribly missed, and our organization grieves, but she instilled knowledge, compassion, and encouraged us all to do more—and I will be forever grateful for all that she did in the NMA, the field of medicine, research, and the country.”  

Mitchell was an appointed member of the President’s Cancer Panel from 2019 to 2023. She was also selected for the NCI’s Blue Ribbon Panel to advise the National Cancer Advisory Board on then-Vice President Joe Biden’s National Cancer Moonshot Initiative, and the NIH Council of Councils.  

Mitchell has served on committees for NCI, ECOG-ACRIN, ASCO, NRG Oncology, and the American Association for Cancer Research. 

Mitchell’s achievements have been recognized through the AACR Jane Cooke Wright, MD Lectureship, ASCO’s Humanitarian Award, the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Control Award, the Lifetime Achievement Award from Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Jefferson’s 2018 Achievement Award in Medicine, the Octavius Valentine Catto Award for community service in the City of Philadelphia, and the 2016 Historically Black College Alumnus of the Year. 

Her research in breast, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers involved new drug evaluation and chemotherapy, development of new therapeutic regimens, chemoradiation strategies for combined modality therapy, patient selection criteria, and supportive care for patients with gastrointestinal cancer.

She was inducted into the National Historical Black College Hall of Fame and as an honorary member of the American Society for Radiation Oncology.  

Mitchell focused on mentorship, Peter O’Dwyer, group co-chair of ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group, and Mitchell Schnall, group co-chair of ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group, said in a statement. 

“She led a focus on early career development of minority/under-represented students, physicians, and trainees to educate and enfold them in an awareness of potential careers in our field,” they said in a statement. “The success of this program, established in 2017, led to its naming in 2023 as the Edith Peterson Mitchell, MD Health Equity Travel Scholarships.” 

Iris C. Gibbs, chair of the American Society for Radiation Oncology’s Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Council, and Curtiland Deville, vice chair of the council, remember Mitchell for her commitment to eliminate cancer disparities. 

“Many of us have personally benefited from her pioneering efforts to support oncologic workforce diversity and her active mentorship to trainees and sponsorship of faculty across our disciplines,” they said in a statement. “We are proud that she was awarded the ASTRO Honorary Member award in 2017 and acknowledge that in our current health equity efforts we stand on the aspirational goals to eliminate cancer disparities that she encouraged us to pursue. Dr. Mitchell will be sorely missed.”

Edith Mitchell poses with an award from ECOG-ACRIN

“Dr. Mitchell was a force in GI oncology, a trailblazer, and a voice for those underserved,” 2023-2024 ASCO President Lynn M. Schuchter, said in an obituary published by ASCO Connection. “Dr. Mitchell was an esteemed ASCO colleague and devoted health equity champion. Her legacy will continue to inspire us all.” 

Sybil R. Green, ASCO’s chief equity, diversity, and inclusion officer and vice president, said Mitchell will also be remembered for the Jane C. Wright Symposium held by the National Medical Association each summer. 

“I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Dr. Mitchell doing our equity, diversity, and inclusion work,” Green said to ASCO Connection. “Within the Black community, Dr. Mitchell was tremendously respected as a trailblazer and mentor. She has certainly left her mark, and will be missed.”  

Mitchell was a trailblazer in cancer research, “especially in her investigations of cancer in underserved populations, specifically breast and prostate cancer in African Americans,” said Margaret Foti, chief executive officer of the AACR. 

“AACR honored her with the AACR-Minorities in Cancer Research Jane Cooke Wright Lectureship for her unparalleled efforts to support the advancement of minority investigators and her bold vision of health equity,” she said. “Her long and illustrious career in the U.S. military was a testament to her dedication to public service. I was proud to call her a friend. She will be dearly missed, and her legacy will live on.”

Mitchell’s husband Delmar Mitchell, an Air Force officer who flew Air Force One, died in 2021. He and Edith were married for more than 51 years.

Mitchell is survived by her two daughters, Dale and DeAnna, and grandchildren Gabriella, Jude, Luke, and Lilly.

A selection of Mitchell’s notable quotes, articles, and achievements is available in this issue. 

Statements from oncology leaders and organizations follow. 


American Cancer Society

Karen Knudsen
Karen Knudsen, PhD, MBA
Chief executive officer, 
American Cancer Society, 
American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network 

It is with great sadness that I learned today about the loss of friend, colleague, and fellow cancer warrior Dr. Edith Mitchell. She was truly an extraordinary human being whom I had the fortune to know and call a friend.

Dr. Mitchell was one of a kind. Through her unique lens as a passionate medical oncologist, and as a service-minded, retired military officer, she saw cancer as the enemy, and developed tactical plans to make a difference in the lives of patients. She was an unquestioned pioneer in understanding that to win the battle against cancer, biology is not the only enemy— and commenced directly addressing the social determinants of health that too frequently impede survival. 

Dr. Mitchell was a woman before her time in recognizing the need to not just work in—but with—communities, and in doing so dramatically increased access to cancer prevention, cancer screening, and cancer cures in our own home city of Philadelphia and beyond. 

She partnered with the American Cancer Society to develop and implement a health equity ambassador program, which went on to train almost 4,000 ambassadors who provide outreach and cancer education in their local communities to help prevent cancer and find cancer early. Countless thousands have directly benefited from the work of Dr. Mitchell, and many more indirectly through her example.

She was also a steadfast champion of convening thought leaders and stakeholders in an effort to address gaps in cancer screening and follow-up care, such as by participating in the American Cancer Society National Roundtables. She was an inaugural steering committee member of the ACS National Breast Cancer Roundtable and delivered the keynote address at the 2022 National Lung Cancer Roundtable Annual Meeting.

As the former director of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center and EVP of oncology services for Jefferson Health, it was a pleasure to work hand-in-hand with this fearless leader who led our efforts to eradicate cancer disparities. She brought passion, wisdom, and perseverance to every initiative, and our patients benefited. 

Thanks to her efforts, the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson Health was one of the first and only Centers to receive an “Exceptional” rating from the National Cancer Institute for Community Outreach and Engagement, in recognition of Dr. Mitchell’s effective leadership and first in field programs.

The warm, wonderful Dr. Edith Mitchell left an indelible mark on the cancer community, and as a result, the world is a better place. Her example will continue to inspire, and I am grateful to have known and loved her.


American Society for Radiation Oncology

Iris C. Gibbs
Iris C. Gibbs, MD
Chair, 
ASTRO Health Equity, 
Diversity and Inclusion Council 
Curtiland Deville
Curtiland Deville, MD
Vice chair, 
ASTRO Healthy Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Council

Dr. Mitchell was an internationally recognized icon in cancer care.  Her leadership in advancing collaborative interdisciplinary care combining chemotherapy and radiation and her long-term commitment to eliminating cancer disparities have left an indelible impact. 

Many of us have personally benefited from her pioneering efforts to support oncologic workforce diversity and her active mentorship to trainees and sponsorship of faculty across our disciplines. We are proud that she was awarded the ASTRO Honorary Member award in 2017 and acknowledge that in our current health equity efforts we stand on the aspirational goals to eliminate cancer disparities that she encouraged us to pursue. Dr. Mitchell will be sorely missed.


ECOG-ACRIN 

Peter J. O’Dwyer, MD
Group co-chair,
ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group; 
Director, Developmental Therapeutics Program, Abramson Cancer Center Professor of Medicine (Hematology-Oncology) at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the Presbyterian Medical Center of Philadelphia
Mitchell D. Schnall
Mitchell D. Schnall, MD, PhD
Group co-chair,
ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group; 
Chairman, Department of Radiology, 
Eugene P. Pendergrass Professor of Radiology, 
Hospital of The University of Pennsylvania

With great sorrow, we announce the passing (suddenly) of Dr. Edith Mitchell on Jan. 21, 2024, while returning from a GI cancer research meeting in San Francisco. 

As our members know, Dr. Mitchell was a giant presence in ECOG-ACRIN for more than 30 years. Distinguished as a GI and breast cancer medical oncology researcher, teacher, and doctor, she brought awareness of racial disparities and the need for inclusiveness to the attention of our community. 

Together with Dr. Comis, the Chair of ECOG at the time some 25 years ago, she developed the Underserved Populations Committee (today our Health Equity Committee). This was the first committee in oncology dedicated to increasing representation across all aspects of our activities, and it included researchers, caregivers, research staff, and most importantly, patients who entered our trials.

Dr. Mitchell’s efforts gained national support, and she went on to advise Presidents, government entities (including NIH and NCI), major medical societies, and private sector companies. She did not, however, lose sight of the details that underlie success: she worked with the National Medical Association to broaden the participation of Black physicians and patients in cancer trials (and later became President of the Association). 

She led a focus on early career development of minority/under-represented students, physicians, and trainees to educate and enfold them in an awareness of potential careers in our field. The success of this program, established in 2017, led to its naming in 2023 as the Edith Peterson Mitchell, MD Health Equity Travel Scholarships. 

She spent countless hours reaching out to disparate communities to bring patients to state-of-the-art prevention and screening trials, especially in breast and prostate cancers. Along with Dr. Melissa Simon, chair of the Health Equity Committee, she has forged a renewed emphasis on disparities research. 

Our thoughts are with Dr. Mitchell’s family, who have always been present in her many activities, and our deepest sympathy is with them today.


National Medical Association 

National Medical Association
On behalf of the National Medical Association
124th President Yolanda Lawson, MD
And the Past Presidents Council

With sadness and the heaviest of hearts we announce the unanticipated passing of Edith P. Mitchell, MD, MACP, FCCP, FECP (London), the 116th President of the National Medical Association (NMA) and Editor of the Journal of the National Medical Association (JNMA). 

She was the Enterprise Vice-President for Cancer Disparities at Jefferson Health’s Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, Director of the Center to Eliminate Cancer Disparities, Associate Director for Diversity Affairs at Jefferson’s Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center and Professor of Medicine and Medical Oncology at Thomas Jefferson University’s Sidney Kimmel Medical College.

Her honors and awards are numerous and include scientific, civic and community origins. A few of distinction include serving on the National Cancer Institute’s Blue Ribbon Panel advising on then Vice-President Joe Biden’s National Cancer Moonshot initiative and the NIH Council on Councils. She was appointed to the President’s Cancer Panel from 2019-2023. She participated in committees for the NCI, ECOG-ACRIN, the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Association for Cancer Research. She was a retired U.S. Air Force Brigadier General, the first woman physician to attain the rank in history.

Dr. Mitchell was highly decorated and a researcher, civil rights, humanitarian, and a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Her commitment to serve continued up until her passing as she was a sought after lecturer nationally and internationally.

Dr. Mitchell was a source of inspiration and influenced the lives and careers of so many in her community and professionally. While she was one of our esteemed past presidents and leader but is no longer with us, we are emboldened to sustain her legacy of excellence in medicine, academia and humanitarian efforts.

Our deepest sympathies and prayers are extended to her family and loved ones.


Jefferson Health

Joseph G. Cacchione
Joseph G. Cacchione, MD, 
Chief executive officer, 
Jefferson Health and
Thomas Jefferson University
Patricia D. Wellenbach
Patricia D. Wellenbach, 
Chair, Board of trustees,
Jefferson Health and
Thomas Jefferson University

Our hearts are heavy today as we mourn the loss of Edith P. Mitchell, MD, MACP, FCCP, FRCP (London). Dr. Mitchell was the director of the Center to Eliminate Cancer Disparities, Professor of Medicine and Medical Oncology, and the enterprise vice president for Cancer Disparities at Jefferson Health’s Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center.

She had a life full of accomplishments and trailblazing. Dr. Mitchell completed 36 years of service in the Armed Forces and achieved the rank of Brigadier General, the first female physician to attain this rank in the history of the United States Air Force.

Dr. Mitchell’s work was focused on identifying and eliminating barriers to care—especially those related to racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities and the social determinants of health.

In addition to her roles with Jefferson, Dr. Mitchell previously served as the 116th president of the National Medical Association and was appointed a member of the President’s Cancer Panel from 2019-2023. She was selected for the National Cancer Institute’s Blue Ribbon Panel to advise the National Cancer Advisory Board on then-Vice President Joe Biden’s National Cancer Moonshot Initiative and the National Institutes of Health Council of Councils.

Dr. Mitchell leaves a legacy of dedication and selflessness, and we will continue to honor their memory by continuing her work to eliminate health disparities. Our thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Mitchell’s family, colleagues and loved ones during this difficult time.


Yale Cancer Center & Smilow Cancer Hospital

Roy Herbst
Roy Herbst, MD, PhD 
Deputy director,
Yale Cancer Center & Smilow Cancer Hospital;
Assistant dean, translational research,
Yale School of Medicine

Dr. Edith Mitchell will be dearly missed, but her incredible legacy will live on in the lives she touched and the work she accomplished throughout her career. I was honored to work closely with Dr. Mitchell on the Winn Awards National Advisory Council.  

We were just together for our third  workshop where we met with almost 150 trainees who have benefited from her path breaking leadership. I know I became even more educated and inspired  after having the chance to get to know her over these past three years. 

Her mentorship, passion, and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion will continue to impact the work that we do for years to come. As we continue to enhance our community outreach at Yale Cancer Center, her model is certainly one we will follow.


The Cancer Letter

Paul Goldberg
Paul Goldberg
Editor and publisher,
The Cancer Letter

Edith Mitchell was a woman of so many talents that it’s a fool’s errand to attempt to list them, but, fortunately for her friends, Edith’s gift of storytelling brought it all together. The sweep of Edith’s stories, while wholly American, was wholly Tolstoian. 

In two short hours or three, Edith could take you from learning to shoot well (very well) in rural Tennessee, to being a second-class citizen in the segregated South, to almost going to the 1963 March on Washington (“You will find another path to serve your people,” her father said, and he was right), to her grandmother’s rationale for voting for Richard Nixon (“He doesn’t care about our people, but at least with him we know where we stand”), to getting fitted for a wrong kind of uniform while at med school at VCU (she was a doctor, not a cafeteria worker, thank you very much), to a brief flirtation with becoming a surgeon (because Walter Lawrence was so inspiring), to anecdotes from the lives of sundry oncology giants she knew (Jane Cooke Wright, for example), to learning to fly airplanes, to becoming the first woman physician of any race to reach the rank of Brigadier General in the U.S. Air Force, to having a recent chat with Joe Biden about something Moonshot-adjacent, to being president of the National Medical Association, to her rationale for picking one French wine over another. 

You could watch new stories being born. I think of one dinner, with Thomas Jefferson folks, in Washington, where Edith’s storytelling didn’t skip a beat as she kept glancing at her phone and updating her auction bids for a massive service of antique French porcelain that, by the time dessert came, became hers for a song.

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