Former CFL player and commissioner Doug Mitchell dies at age 83

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Doug Mitchell certainly left his mark in whatever he did.

The Calgary native, who's a member of six various sport halls of fame and served as commissioner of the CFL in the 1980s, has died. He was 83.

The cause of death was not immediately known.

“Doug’s passing is a huge loss to the Stampeders, to the CFL and to the community,” John Hufnagel, the Calgary Stampeders president/GM said in a statement. "His contributions to football and amateur sports were numerous and far-reaching.

"On behalf of the entire organization, I offer my deepest condolences to Lois and the family as well to all of Doug’s many friends."

John Bean, the president/CEO of Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation, echoed Hufnagel's sentiments.

"Doug’s passion and energy for the CFL and the Calgary Stampeders will never be replaced," Bean said. "He was an amazing friend and mentor to us all, leading by example.

"We all learned so much from Doug. He will be deeply missed.”

Mitchell, who passed away Wednesday, attended Colorado College on a hockey scholarship and completed a bachelor of arts degree in business administration. He then went to the University of British Columbia, where he played football while earning a bachelor of law degree in 1962.

Mitchell lined up on both offence and defence at UBC and played briefly in the CFL with the B.C. Lions and Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

He served as CFL commissioner from 1984 to '88. Mitchell also spent time on the league's board of governors, as a representative of the Stampeders, remaining with the franchise's executive committee until his death.

Mitchell also served with both the Stampeders Foundation and Flames Foundation.

"I am beyond saddened by the passing of Doug," CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said. "His incredible passion for Canadian football inspired players, coaches and executives to further his dream of building character and uniting our country through our great game."

Ticats owner Bob Young took to social media to praise Mitchell.

"Everyone loved Doug," Young tweeted. "He was the very definition of a gentleman.

"The CFL and the world has lost a giant. We are all very grateful for his many contributions to making Calgary and Canada a better place."

Mitchell made several significant contributions to athletics, including the creation of the U Sports athlete of the year awards honouring the top Canadian collegiate performers. The honour — formerly known as the Howard Mackie, BLG and Lieutenant Governor Athletic Awards — were recently renamed The Honourable Lois Mitchell and Doug Mitchell U Sports athlete of the year awards.

U Sports named one of its national semifinal football games, the Mitchell Bowl, in his honour.

"My condolences to the Mitchell family on the passing of their patriarch Doug at the age of 83," tweeted Jim Mullin, the president of Football Canada. "Few have contributed more to the game of football in Canada both at the pro and amateur levels.

"It’s a profound loss for our sport. His focus and passion made him a joy to work with."

Lois Mitchell recently completed her term as Lieutenant Governor of Alberta (2015-20). Their son, Scott, is the managing partner/CEO of Hamilton Sports Group Partnership, which owns and operates the Ticats and Forge FC of the Canadian Premier League.

Mitchell is a member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. He has also been named to the Alberta Order of Excellence and Order of Canada.

Mitchell was named for induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2021 as a builder. Also in that class were former Montreal Alouettes head coach Marv Levy (in builder category) and former players Will Johnson and Mike Walker (defensive linemen), Nik Lewis (receiver) and Orlondo Steinauer and Don Wilson (both defensive backs).

The 2020 and '21 classes were enshrined together last month in Hamilton, a delay created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"​When he was welcomed into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame just last month, he and I spoke about the topics dearest to him: family and football," Amrbosie said. "It was my honour and privilege to join in the occasion, and for us to recognize all that he has done for our league, and what he will always mean to our sport.

​"​We also spoke of building – of doing more and being better. We spoke of how our league can grow. Doug contributed mightily to our foundation. He would expect us to do all we can to build upon it."

Ambrosie also reflected upon Mitchell's accomplishments during his time as CFL commissioner.

"​As the sixth commissioner of our league from 1984 to 1988, and also as a former member of the CFL’s board of governors and a driving force behind the Calgary Stampeders, he was known for his tremendous leadership and determination," Ambrosie said. "But like so many Canadian football fans, I will remember Doug most for his love of the game.

"When I think of his stewardship of the league or seeing the U SPORTS Athlete of the Year Award presented in his honour or watching some of our country’s best young players hoist the Mitchell Bowl, I’m uplifted by how many lives he touched through sport."

Added the B.C. Lions: "Yesterday we lost a long-serving member of the Canadian Football league. The BC Lions Football club shares our condolences with Doug's wife Lois and the entire Mitchell family, including his son Scott, the President of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats Football Club."

Mitchell was also named Sportsman of the Year in 2007 by the Calgary Booster Club, and three years later was listed by the Globe and Mail as one of the Power 50 of Canadian sports.

Mitchell served as a member of the National Hockey League board of governors from 1980-84 and was also chairman of the '05 Winter Goodwill Games.

He began his legal career with the firm of Howard, Mackie, specializing in corporate and commercial law. When the firm merged to become Borden Ladner Gervais, Mitchell served as national co-chair.

And sport wasn't Mitchell's only passion. He also served with a wide range of organizations outside of the athletic arena, including chairman of the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, United Way of Calgary, the Campbell McLaurin Foundation for the Hearing Handicapped, Theatre Calgary and the Calgary Zoo, to name but a few.

In 2004, Mitchell was named one of the most influential Albertans in the province’s first 100 years. That same year, he became a member of the Order of Canada.

Mitchell is survived by his wife, Lois, and children Shelley, Steven, Sue Ann and Scott.

Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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