World traveler, bibliophile, antique car aficionado, and longtime Chelsea resident David Mize died at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center on July 20 from injuries sustained when his car struck a tree on Strafford Road in Tunbridge, two days earlier.
Mize, who was alone in the vehicle, was a seasonal resident of Chelsea for years, often spending his summers in town after working overseas.
Born in 1928, Mize grew up alongside his twin sister, Margaret, in St. Louis and as a young man was present for Winston Churchill’s famous “Iron Curtain Speech” at nearby Westminster College in 1946.
After serving stateside in the U.S. Army as athletic instructor for wounded service members, Mize literally talked his way into enrollment at Wesleyan College, according to his sister.
“He just went to the admissions people and said that he knew he didn’t have a stellar high school record but he really wanted to go to Wesleyan,” said Margaret (Mize) Mathis. “He did extremely well there, loved it. Both his daughter and his grandson are now graduates of Wesleyan.” After graduating from Wesleyan, Mize departed, almost immediately, for a three-year teaching stint in Beirut and eventually married Gay Wells, another teacher who he’d met on the Atlantic crossing.
Between working for the U.S. State Department in Saigon in 1954, earning a Master’s degree at Yale, and teaching for 15 years at the American University of Cairo, Mize took as many opportunities as he could find to strike out on a long-distance driving adventure. No matter his starting point—Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, Algeria—the Mediterranean Sea was often his destination as he strapped himself into an antique car and set out across the desert.
“In all cases he took an old car and drove,” said his sister, “to as near to the Mediterranean as he could get. Sometimes it was pretty close and sometimes it was pretty far.”
48 Years of Friendship
“In your life you have friends. Everyone has friends, but David was a special friend,” said Mize’s longtime confidant and Chelsea-based mechanic, Frank Keene.
Recounting a nearly-legendary story of Mize arriving—out of the blue—in his driveway one day in 1970, pushing a non-functioning 1936 Ford, Keene remembered Mize pointedly asking if there was “a good mechanic in this town?”
“There’s no such thing!” responded Keene, who still chuckles when retelling the story.
“We just always had a way of making each other laugh,” said Keene. “If we were seen together, if people didn’t know us, it would seem that we were mad at each other because we were always joshing each other. Nothing could be further from the truth.” Describing Mize as “very, very intelligent,” Keene said he could fill the pages of The Herald with stories of Mize’s humor, wit, and sense of adventure.
“We’d get the [antique] car out in the spring and I’d say ‘well, we probably ought to do some work on this to get it running,’” said Keene, laughingly, “and he’d say ‘I think if we just tow it down the street at a speed that it’ll start, then it’ll be good for the summer!’ We did this a lot.”
Even in retirement, Mize’s curiosity remained strong, said Keene, who remembers call after call from Mize who had gotten stuck—and lost—on one of his beloved back roads, prompting a thoroughly entertained Keene to venture out to retrieve him time and again.
The Final Stanza
Despite the slowly growing issues with—of all things—his mobility, Mize remained active and curious all the way through the final weeks of his life, said his youngest daughter, Lucy Mize.
Reflecting on her father’s tremendous “appetite for life,” Lucy said her father never shied away from telling a big story and sharing the joy that life had offered him.
“He told stories to everybody, he would keep people entranced,” she said. “He always started his stories with ‘they said I couldn’t,’” before invariably continuing with a kneeslapping tale of gleefully circumnavigating the ordinary.
“That’s one of the things that I think about with my father. With his grandchildren he’d get in the pool and splash and play,” she said. “¡Con gusto! He had a lot of joy.”
Inspired, perhaps, by his favorite poem “Ithaka” by Constantine Cavafy, which urges the reader to seek their goals while savoring the journey, Mize was always looking forward to the next step in his journey, his daughter said.
“He had all his pleasures in the last six weeks of his life,” said Lucy who recounted her father attending his 90th birthday party with his twin sister, swimming in the pond, buying 25 books at the Chelsea Library book sale, and even planning a trip to Albania. “He never stopped thinking about his next trip.
“He was doing something he loved as he died: driving a car on a beautiful back road on a wonderful summer day.”
-- DYLAN KELLEY