For over a year, acclaimed Maine journalist Douglas Rooks spent every day in Bowdoin’s George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections and Archives researching the life of Senator George Mitchell ’54. On Wednesday, he returned to the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library to celebrate and share “Statesman: George Mitchell and the Art of the Possible,” a detailed and comprehensive biography of the public figure and Bowdoin alumnus.

In 1985, Rooks met Mitchell, a politician and lawyer who had been elected to the United States Senator from Maine just a few years prior. Rooks was working as editorial page editor for the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, Maine when he realized Mitchell was no ordinary politician.
Rooks said he was impressed by the soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader’s critical role in stabilizing regional politics when Mitchell served as United States Special Envoy for both Northern Ireland and Middle East Peace. 

“I was impressed not just with his obviously keen intelligence, but his willingness to go out of his way to spend time with young journalists and help them,” Rooks said.
The project drew from hundreds of manuscripts and oral recordings from Bowdoin’s Special Collections.

During the launch, Rooks said that working in Special Collections and Archives taught him how to separate interesting anecdotes from facts. This skill helped him build a narrative about Mitchell’s time in the Senate. He also worked to balance his research with interviews with Mitchell and people who know him. He said that as a journalist, a willingness to be curious and ask questions is crucial.

“I think the department is named after [Mitchell] because of his longtime connection to the College and because he is such a fine representation of what the College hopes its students will go out and do—[it’s a] sort of civic purpose for the common good,” Bowdoin Processing Archivist Caroline Moseley said.

A recipient of the Common Good Award and Bowdoin Prize, Mitchell has dedicated more than three decades to public service. During the late 1980s and early 90s, he was heavily involved in the passage of immigration reform, the Clean Air Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.  

“People forget how much good can be accomplished through legislation,” Rooks said. “It’s something people don’t even really think about anymore. But it’s important that at least we consider it’s possible. In Mitchell’s time we got a lot done, and I don’t see the reason why we can’t go back to that.”