CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Dr. Mildred Mitchell-Bateman, a trailblazer in the treatment of mental illness with a career that spanned six decades, has died at the age of 89.
She died Wednesday evening in the intensive care unit of Charleston Area Medical Center's General Hospital following a brief illness, said her daughter, Donna Taylor of Charleston.
Taylor said her mother remained active until she recently developed pneumonia. She sang in the choir at Charleston's Bream Memorial Presbyterian Church, where she served on the board and in the women's group.
She also continued to serve on the board of Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital in Huntington. In 1999, then-Gov. Cecil Underwood changed the name from Huntington State Hospital in honor of her accomplishments.
Throughout her life, Mitchell-Bateman maintained a busy schedule.
"She ran circles around us," Taylor said. "She was amazing. She and my dad instilled in me the importance of education and how it can improve your lifestyle and impact those around you."
Another daughter, Danielle Shanklin of North Lauderale, Fla., said her mother was a woman "with an open arms policy. No matter who came to her in need of assistance, she was ready to help with guidance."
She said her mother taught her that there are no obstacles, only steppingstones.
"She was for equality and justice for everyone," Shanklin said. "She always pushed for the underprivileged. She was sent here, I believe, as a guardian of people."
The Rev. Robert Wood, pastor of Bream Memorial, said in the church she served as "a voice of reason, hope, faith and optimism."
He relayed a story that had been passed along to him of her decision to attend an all-white church.
"A minister here had been chased out of the south in the '60s because he had tried to integrate a church," Wood said. "He took the position of welcoming African-Americans, and it cost him his position in the South. He came to Bream, not because it was cutting edge, but a place where he was well received."
Mitchell-Bateman was aware of the situation and wanted to show her support, he said
Wood said she was a professional African-American woman who helped bridge many gaps.
She was the oldest of three children born to Suder Q. and Ella Lee Mitchell. Her father was a Presbyterian minister, and her mother was a nurse.
During a 2008 interview with the Daily Mail, Mitchell-Bateman told her story in a soothing voice. Experiences that may have broken others inspired and strengthened her. She called herself primarily a grandmother. She is survived by seven grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Her daughters said her love for education had a great impact on the family.
She went to a junior college for women and then to Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C., where she majored in biology and chemistry. The school had just become co-ed and she was among 38 women on campus with more than 400 men.
She was later accepted at Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania where a policy was in place to accept one African-American every four years. She completed her clinical laboratory time at Mercy-Douglas Hospital in Philadelphia. While there she saw an ad for a job at Lakin State Hospital in West Virginia at a salary of $25 a month.
Her mother had passed in 1947 and her father had suffered a severe heart attack. With a brother and sister still in college, the salary looked good and she got the job along with its numerous challenges.
In December 1947, she met and married William L. Bateman, a young medical attendant. Together, they watched medicine advance. He died in 2004 after 54 years of marriage.
She has served as a psychiatrist, administrator and teacher. She was a clinical instructor at Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania, clinical director and superintendent of Lakin State Hospital, and supervisor of the West Virginia Department of Mental Health.
In 1962, she became the first African-American woman to hold the position of state mental health commissioner. In 1977, she was one of four psychiatrists on the President's Commission on Mental Health. She also has headed the Department of Psychiatry at Marshall University's School of Medicine.
She collected an armload of degrees and awards throughout the decades.