The late Joan Mitchell, owner of the Woodlawn Stables, kissing her show horse, Eli, which was nicknamed "Mommas Boy" because it was her horse.
Photo by Scott Shepherd
Mount Vernon Joan Mitchell died one week ago after a long battle with breast cancer. Friends and family who gathered at her beloved stables described her as possessing “an unparalleled gift with animals,” “a mother figure and mentor,” and a “devoted custodian of Woodlawn Stables.” The tribute to her this past week at the Woodlawn Stables was attended by approximately 150 people and an almost equal number attended a memorial service at Good Shepherd Catholic Church this past Saturday.
Mitchell was born in 1941, in Ft. Lewis, Washington. She was the daughter of Robert and Virginia Clirehugh. It was at an early age traveling with her parents to U.S. Army posts that Mitchell acquired her love of horses and competing in equestrian events. This included the experience of riding at the Royal Baghdad Hunt (Iraq) and various rodeos throughout the U.S. While living in Virginia she met and married her husband Richard F. Mitchell, and together they raised four children. Years later they divorced but remained friends. She leaves her children: Richard R., John F., Timothy A. and Cynthia; her brother Mark A., and two grandchildren, McKenna and Avery Mitchell.
A visit to the Woodlawn Stables located on Route 1 immediately north of Fort Belvoir is like going back in time. A first-time visitor can be surprised by the images: grazing horses, the aging barns, the barnyard pathways, the smell of hay and straw and manure, and the central office give the appearance of a horse farm that could have existed some 30 or 40 years ago. Mitchell infused those who frequented the stables with her love of horses, and her infectious personality, according to friends who gathered in mourning and tribute.
One longstanding family friend described the Woodlawn Stables as “an oasis” amid the hustle and bustle of a high tech fast- paced Washington metro area lifestyle.
Michele Krause, a self-described early years “barn rat” who began taking riding lessons at age 10, is now a licensed vet technician and 30 years later continues to help and support the stables. She said, “This is a place for children to have a once in a lifetime experience that builds character and responsibility in them. … Joan never turned away anyone who wanted to learn to ride. … If they couldn’t afford the fees she would find a way to defray the cost of riding lessons by assigning the student rider work such as cleaning stables or answering the phone at the office.”
“Generations of children have benefited from Joan Mitchell’s love and devotion to the horses and her riding programs,” according to Christie Scanlin-Dobson. She reminisced about her early childhood years learning how to ride, working on the farm, and her close personal relationship with Mitchell and her daughter Cindy. “Joan always told the truth; she was a mother figure and mentor to me and the generations of children who grew up loving the stable and who, because of Joan’s energy and enthusiasm, helped to shape our values,” Scanlin-Dobson said. “She taught by her example to love riding and caring for the horses. … Joan loved life, horses, family, travel, music … Joan was the lead mare for 20 years; the heart and soul of the stable.”
Mitchell’s son John said, “She was a guiding light for me; she put structure and discipline in my life. … I believe she would want to be remembered as a devoted custodian of Woodlawn Stables and mentor to horse lovers.”
Daughter Cynthia, who has helped her mother manage the stables these past many years, and is committed to carrying on her mother’s legacy of caring for the horses and management of the Stables, said, “My mother never met a stranger and was a warm individual who had a gift with animals that was unparalleled. … I will miss her smile, her quirky sense of humor and her wicked intellect. … I only hope to be half the person that she was to me, my family, and all who came in touch with her … I am very proud to have been her daughter.”