Dr. Marvin Mitchell, 94, of Watertown died at home on Friday, Sept. 29. A respected scientist who loved oil painting, vegetable gardening, and running, he was down to earth, interested in others, and more likely to arrive at work in sneakers and a hoodie than a white coat.
He continued to publish scientific papers into his last year, and was still at his lab just two weeks before his death. He was loved by all those who knew him, family, friends, and co-workers.
Mitchell was born in 1922 in Toledo Ohio. His parents and older sister Shirley (who had a successful career as a radio and TV actress) were immigrants from Poland, Jews escaping the Russian Civil War. He graduated from Toledo University in 1944 and served in the Navy in the last year of WWII.
After the war, Dr. Mitchell enrolled in Ohio State University Medical School, graduating in 1950, followed by an internship in medicine at the University of Indiana and a residency at the VA in Los Angeles. In 1952 he was awarded a research fellowship at the University of Montreal and in 1953 he moved to Boston where he did an endocrine fellowship at Tufts Medical Center.
In 1953 Mitchell married Dolores Lubell, also of Toledo. They met as summer camp counselors when he was in medical school and she was an undergraduate at Ohio State. They lived briefly in Cambridge and then moved Watertown, where they have lived ever since.
Dr. Mitchell specialized in disorders of the thyroid gland and was a national authority on the use of radioisotopes for testing and diagnosis. He used this expertise when, in 1976, he established a pioneering program to test newborns for hypothyroidism at the Mass. State Laboratory Institute. With just one drop of blood, this procedure showed whether newborn babies had low thyroid level, a conditional called hypothyroidism that leads to untreatable mental retardation. Dr. Mitchell’s team was able to inform pediatricians and parents when babies were at risk. For the first time it was possible to treat these infants with inexpensive thyroid pills before it was too late.
Since its inception 40 years ago, the New England Regional Screening Program has identified and treated more than 2,000 children with hypothyroidism. The program has been duplicated all over the country and in much of the world and is now operated by UMass Medical School.
For many years Dr. Mitchell taught the endocrine block at Tufts University Medical School and continued to work at the New England Regional Screening Program, serving as a senior consultant, co-authoring and reviewing papers, and working on new laboratory methods.
Dr. Mitchell was also an active participant in community affairs. He was an elected member of the local Town Meeting, and also served as a member and Chair of the Watertown Board of Health.
Dr. Mitchell is survived by his wife Dolores, his children Clifford, Paul, and Elizabeth, and three grandchildren, Hannah, Rees, and Martha.
Donations in lieu of gifts may be made to the Good Shepherd Community Hospice, 90 Wells Avenue Newton, MA 02459, and Compassion & Choices of Massachusetts.
Burial services will be private and memorial service is planned for mid-October.