Dorothy Clements Spence Mitchum
1919 - 2014, Santa Barbara
Dorothy Clements Spence Mitchum, a daughter of William Lemuel Spence and Ina Clements Spence, born in Camden, Delaware, May 2, 1919, passed peacefully at Serenity House hospice in Santa Barbara, California on April 12, 2014, just 20 days shy of her 95th birthday. She was surrounded by loving friends and family during her final days.
Known for her grace, great beauty, devilish wit and love of words, roses, and animals - especially dogs, Dorothy lived a remarkable life, most famously as the wife of Robert (Charles) Mitchum whom she married in the cabbage-scented kitchen of a Methodist parson in Dover, Delaware, on March 16, 1940. She met Mr. Mitchum, two years her elder, when she was fourteen, after a brief courtship with his handsome younger brother John, a fellow student at Caesar Rodney High School where Dorothy excelled at English and basketball and served as May Queen. Robert had already begun his vagabond life and when he returned to Delaware and met the beautiful dark-haired girl his brother was courting, according to Dorothy, “That was all she wrote.”
Dorothy attended Peirce College in Philadelphia after high school, with the aim of becoming a secretary, but she abandoned that ambition to accompany her husband to Hollywood where he eventually found his fortune as a motion picture actor. Along the way, the newlyweds worked for astrologer Carroll Righter. Dorothy scribed horoscopes and developed a lifelong interest in astrology.
Dorothy’s writing career was put on hold when she gave birth to her first son, James Robin Mitchum, on May 8, 1941. Her second son, Christopher, was born less than two years later on October 16, 1943. By this time Mr. Mitchum’s acting career had taken off and Dorothy had her hands full raising two sons while being a glamorous Hollywood wife. She was a founding member of S.H.A.R.E., (Share Happily And Reap Endlessly) a charitable organization of women who still produce an annual show to benefit mentally challenged individuals. In her many years of service with S.H.A.R.E., Dorothy displayed her talents as a dancer and organizer.
On March 3, 1952, Dorothy gave birth to a surprise third child, daughter Petrine Day. Once again, her writing career remained on the back burner as she juggled an infant into the mix. She handled this juggling act with typical aplomb, and managed to accompany her husband to far-flung film locations and create the semblance of home wherever they roamed, cooking up the pots of chili he savored.
Although during her home-making years her writing skills were mostly limited to hand-written letters prized by a throng of friends and family, Dorothy finally reemerged publicly in 1984 by scribing a forward to a new edition of a cherished book, “Quest for the Lost City, A True Life Adventure” by Dana & Ginger Lamb, a marvelous tale about an intrepid couple’s trek through Mexico, published by Santa Barbara Press.
After living on the Eastern shore of Maryland from 1960 to 1966, Dorothy and Robert moved back to Los Angeles and then, in 1977, to Montecito in Santa Barbara. They enjoyed their life together there until Mr. Mitchum’s passing on July 1, 1997. Once widowed, Dorothy devoted herself to her eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. She also tended her rose garden, read voraciously and kept up written correspondence with many friends.
A lively raconteur, Dorothy loved to reminisce and regaled listeners with stories such as the time she and Robert heard an unknown singer in a small club in Biloxi, Mississippi. Dorothy and Robert were very impressed by the young man’s talents. On returning to their hotel in New Orleans, they bumped into their acquaintance Colonel Tom Parker and told him he ought to check out the singer: Elvis Presley. Elvis later became a family friend.
In addition to her husband, Dorothy was preceded in death by her brother W. Lloyd Spence and is survived by her younger sister, Bette Compton and her niece Janeen Gaul; two great nephews, Weston and Trevor Gaul; her niece Judy Fowler and Sally Spence; her cousin Jean Roth; her three children – James, an actor/entrepreneur, Chris, an actor/politician and Petrine, a writer - and her sixteen grand and great-grandchildren. Dorothy’s ashes will be scattered at sea so she can meet up with Robert at Easter Island per a long-ago pact between them. A private celebration of her life will follow in May, during her birth sign of Taurus. The family suggests that donations in Dorothy ‘s honor can be made to the Salvation Army, who kept Robert alive during his early vagabond years, and any charity that helps animals.