Colorful hair clips and leis fluttered amid a crowd of black suits, skirts, ties and tuxes in the mid-afternoon sunlight streaming through Upper Gwinn windows during Jim Mitre’s memorial service on Tuesday.
In celebration of his 55 years of life, more than 400 family members, friends, students, faculty and staff gathered to honor the former nursing instructor with their memories, thoughts and prayers.
“When I was a child, my scariest nightmares were about losing my dad… Last week, that nightmare became a reality,” Kristen Mitre, Jim’s daughter, said. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about him… I’ve cried a lot, but I’ve smiled more.”
Kristen told audience members about the impact Mitre had on her life and the lessons he taught her.
“My dad used to say that he helped me get my start… It used to make me roll my eyes because it was so corny,” Kristen said. “But I realized later that I was lucky… He taught me the importance of being myself, the value of a good thrift shop adventure and seeing worth in the things others would throw away.”
Mitre died on May 26 after extensive surgery two weeks ago. His cause of death was not shared at the service.
Mitre’s brother, Joel Mitre, spoke about his experience growing up with Jim. Joel said that being in a Navy family, he and his siblings were used to moving around a lot before they settled down in Seattle.
“It was hard, but not for Jim… He always had that soft-spoken, good-natured air about him,” Joel said. “He used to introduce himself by saying ‘Hi, I’m Jim. I’m shy.’ ”
He said that Mitre, the second of nine children, loved to read books.
“Growing up, I remember playing with my younger siblings … but not so much with Jim,” Joel said. “Jim was usually inside the house reading… He read whatever he could get his hands on. He wasn’t a hermit or a recluse or anything — he just chose to find enjoyment in books.”
Joel said that when his family moved to Hawaii, the island lifestyle seemed to fit Mitre perfectly.
During his teenage years, Joel said that Mitre took to collecting shells, making leis, and playing games such as pool, foosball and pinball. Despite not knowing how to swim, Joel said that Mitre even tried surfing.
“He was always teaching or creating,” Joel said.
In addition to his role as the only male nursing instructor at SPU and a registered nurse at Seattle Children’s Hospital, Mitre was the faculty advisor of the O’hana O’ Hawai’i Club for the past two years.
“O’hana means family,” junior and O’hana Club President Kaui Brito said. “We took the idea to the extreme with him… He instilled that in a lot of us.”
Brito said that Mitre was the embodiment of the “aloha spirit” — a Hawaiian term used to describe someone who is friendly, loving and open to all backgrounds and cultures. Brito met Mitre during her freshmen year at SPU. Though he wasn’t the adviser of the O’hana club yet, she said that she could see that he was a Hawaiian boy at heart.
“He understood how homesick Hawai’i kids can get, so he made a point of talking with every member,” Brito said. “He never wanted to pass on any burdens to us… He would always give us stress relieving exercises.”
Recently, Brito said that Mitre had started to send her links to relaxing YouTube videos to help her deal with stress.
“We didn’t realize until now how close we were to him,” Brito said. “Everyone saw him as a mentor and a professor … but he was a friend too.”
Mitre also led the monthly Men in Nursing Luncheon group on the first Thursday of every month during the school year.
“He said that he did it because he noticed that the retention rate for male students [in the nursing major] was really low,” senior nursing student James Nguyen said. “It’s for all the males to build camaraderie.”
Nguyen will be leading the last luncheon of the year this Thursday in honor of Mitre.
“He’s always done it by himself. This will be the first time that someone else will finally do it besides him,” Nguyen said in a phone interview. “I’m gonna do that for him… It was his dream. I’m gonna help him carry on the torch to the finish line.”