Early Saturday morning a paddle out was held at Shipwreck Beach for Lorton Mitchell, who died in March from an aggressive and relentless strain of cancer. He would have been 57 on May 23, the day of the paddle out.
More than 200 people paddled into the water this chilly, breezy morning; more than that lined the shore in quiet reflection. Among those in the water were childhood friends, owners of homes Mitchell had built (he owned Lorton Mitchell Custom Homes) and many, many other people whose lives were touched by him. Mitchell’s wife Carolyn was there on her surfboard, and their three grown children – Chris, Taylor and Mallory – all in a big circle in just beyond the breakers at Shipwreck Beach.
Tributes have been coming in since Lorton died last March. One arrived the night of the paddle out from Marty and Karen Jensen, who were in Bali, Indonesia for their son’s wedding.
The message came with a series of photos capturing how they had lit a lantern off Legian Beach, Bali, just after sunset, and sent the lantern floating out over the ocean in celebration of Lorton Mitchell’s life. “The lantern traveled over half a mile of ocean before it disappeared in the dark,” said Karen Jensen in the message.
Another tribute came from a young man who also couldn’t attend, but who had many memories of growing up with Lorton Mitchell’s children, going on surf trips, and experiencing the gift of love and inspiration.
His name is Jack Christiansen, 24, and he wrote: “Hopping into the Mitchell’s white Suburban, I waved goodbye to my parents in the late afternoon sun, grinning ear to ear in anticipation. Lorton turned the corner and headed for Adella Lane as we set out on my first big adventure.
“It was slumber party celebrating Chris and Taylor’s birthdays [Lorton’s sons], and my first night out away from home. The entire Adella Lane gang was there to endure the festivities. We celebrated in grand fashion, with Domino’s Pizza, video games and enough sugar to turn us all into diabetics.
“Eventually our highs faded and we crawled into our sleeping bags. Yet, as the night dragged on, I felt more and more homesick. Overwhelmed by the thought of sleeping an entire three blocks from my own bed, I woke up Lorton and told him that I wanted to go home, fibbing about a stomachache with tears welling up in my eyes.
“He took me outside to calm me down, explaining that it was too late to go home and I should go back to sleep with the rest of the boys. This did little to help an already anxious mind, and I began contemplating running up the hill and the other two blocks to my parents. Why wouldn’t this mean old man just let me go home, I thought. Surely it would be easier for everyone if he just took me home. But eventually I settled down and cried myself to sleep.
“Lorton was up early the next morning whipping up pancakes and bacon, unfazed by my episode the night before. It would take years to realize, but Lorton taught me an important lesson that night. Little did I know that would be the first of many.
“Lorton spent the next ten years keeping the Adella Lane Gang out of trouble, keeping us fed, and most importantly, smiling. Throughout all this he taught me how to tie lures onto line, how to slide into home plate, and fix surfboards.
“But out of all the things that Lorton taught me, the most valuable lesson of all comes back to that tearful night when I was eight years old. Life can be hard, but when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Perseverance always prevails and sometimes the effort is more important than the results. This was well beyond the scope of most youngsters, but that moment has stuck with me ever since.
“As a visionary, craftsman, and true role model, Lorton’s enthusiasm inspired us, and his dedication made dreams a reality. Looking back on all the surf sessions, barbecues and camping trips, I wish I could have thanked him more. Though he would never ask for anything in return, I feel I owe him a lot, because half the smiles I cracked as a kid can be attributed to Lorton Mitchell.”