Dick Mitchell, 1939-2005, Scholar, Teacher, Founder, Father, Friend
YUMA — Dick Mitchell, best known as the author of the bestselling book "Winning Thoroughbred Strategies" and founder of Cynthia Publishing Company, died peacefully in his sleep at the Yuma Regional Medical Center Sunday morning of complications from non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He was 66.
Born in Brooklyn in 1939, Mr. Mitchell was the second of seven children of Richard and Anne (Tuchis) Mitchell. When baby Mitchell developed pneumonia at age 2, his parents, who lived in a coldwater flat, sent him to live his paternal grandmother, Blanche, and her daughters, his paternal aunts Helen and Olive, for health reasons. As Mr. Mitchell frequently pointed out, this seemingly cruel twist of fate proved to be a blessing in disguise. As a child, he soon came to prefer this unconventional upbringing, considering Blanche to be the most important person in his young life. With his aunts serving as what Mr. Mitchell liked to call his "ersatz parents," Mr. Mitchell enjoyed a stable childhood, even putting in a stint as a model for the Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog.
Later, when all his contemporaries were out getting tattoos and riding motorcycles and quitting school, it was Helen and Olive who insisted a wavering Mr. Mitchell continue his education. He would never regret that advice, and as a result, Mr. Mitchell's gratitude and devotion to his aunts never waned. In the early 1990s, when they were too infirm to continue living independently in the Bay Area, he would end up moving them to a nursing home in Studio City, Calif., virtually across the street from his offices at Cynthia Publishing Company, so he could walk in and visit them daily. They spent their remaining days there.
Mr. Mitchell earned his high-school diploma from St. Francis Preparatory School in Brooklyn before completing his bachelor's degree in mathematics at St. Francis College proper, where he discovered his first true passion — teaching — thanks to the compelling style of one of his professors, Brother Leo Quinn. Not surprisingly, after receiving graduate fellowships to Adelphi University, the University of Southern California and Yeshiva University, Mr. Mitchell went on to teach mathematics for a time.
In the early 1970s, Mr. Mitchell moved to California to work in sales and management for several computer giants, including Wang Laboratories and Hewlett-Packard. It was Mr. Mitchell's access to mainframe computers and minicomputers at both places that sparked his interest in applying them to identify the mathematical and statistical principles governing the outcomes of Thoroughbred horse races.
When he was initially unable to crack the racing code, Mr. Mitchell sought to learn even more about handicapping and wagering. He attended seminars and classes on the subjects, thus forming the connections and friendships that would last the rest of his life. He was proud to count among his many teachers and contemporaries such pioneers as Howard Sartin, Tom Brohamer, James Quinn and Barry Meadow.
But it was a class Mr. Mitchell attended at Los Angeles City College that proved to be the breakthrough, both professionally and personally. The title of the course was "Probability Theory as Applied to Horse Race Handicapping," and it was taught by Mark Cramer. Dr. Cramer's down-to-earth style and right-brained creativity were all the inspiration Mr. Mitchell needed to make the quantum leap from the traditional "winner-picking" approach to one centered on making a fair-odds betting line and identifying "wager value." Mr. Mitchell never hesitated to call Dr. Cramer his most trusted confidant in handicapping or in life.
Dr. Cramer's value-oriented approach prompted Mr. Mitchell to take up the cause in earnest. In 1984, Mr. Mitchell founded Cynthia Publishing Company — named for his wife — and self-published the books "Thoroughbred Handicapping as an Investment," "A Winning Thoroughbred Strategy," and "Myths That Destroy a Horseplayer's Bankroll."
And true to his mathematics and scientific background, Mr. Mitchell also found a way to carry out these approaches through an increasingly popular type of device — the personal computer. Mr. Mitchell's earliest software was written for IBM, Apple ][ and Commodore machines. And to satisfy his first love of teaching, he also began teaching his own handicapping course at Los Angeles City College.
In 1989, Mr. Mitchell reached his pinnacle both professionally and personally, producing what would be his lasting legacies.
That year, with the publication by William Morrow and Company, Inc., of the seminal "Winning Thoroughbred Strategies," Mr. Mitchell joined his mentor Dr. Quinn — as well as respected handicapping writers William Quirin and William Ziemba — as one of the select authors in the publisher's "Winner's Circle" stable of authors. Publication of "Winning Thoroughbred Strategies" gave Mitchell a brand-new worldwide audience and further enhanced the reputation of his own Cynthia Publishing Company. Later, Mr. Mitchell and William Morrow would team up to release 1993's "Commonsense Handicapping" and 1995's "Commonsense Betting."
And on May 15 of that year, Mr. Mitchell became a father as he and his wife, Cynthia, whom he married in 1980, welcomed their son Samuel Alexander into the world. As with nearly everything in Mr. Mitchell's life, Sam came attached with an incredible story and a most improbable but ultimately triumphant journey.
After trying unsuccessfully for the better part of a decade to have a child, Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell put their faith in a new procedure promoted by Los Angeles fertility doctor Richard Marrs. Called Zift surrogacy, this approach would produce a fully biological baby from the fertilization of Mrs. Mitchell's egg by Mr. Mitchell's sperm, with the resulting embryo implanted in the Fallopian tube of a surrogate who would have absolutely no genetic claim to the child. And so it was that Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell made medical history as the parents of the world's first successful Zift surrogacy baby.
In 2001, seeking to reconnect with younger, more impressionable minds and to return to his first loves of teaching and mathematics, Mr. Mitchell relocated to Yuma to teach at the high-school and college levels. Initially diagnosed with lymphoma in 2002, Mr. Mitchell continued his teaching pursuits until October 2005. After a final, joyful Thanksgiving visit with his son and ex-wife, to whom he was grateful for providing the biggest positive difference during his final days, the elder Mitchell lapsed in and out of consciousness on Saturday before dying at 1 a.m. local time on Sunday.
Mr. Mitchell is survived by his son, Sam, a junior at Milken Community High School in Los Angeles; his ex-wife, Cynthia; and two brothers, three sisters, and several nieces and nephews.
No funeral is planned. Two private memorial services are planned: one at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at Milken Community High School, and another at a later date at the home of Mrs. Mitchell and her son. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in Mr. Mitchell's name to the American Cancer Society.
We have set up a special section in the Horsetalk Forum for those who wish to share memories of Mr. Mitchell.