Lifecycles | Obituaries

Mitch Dorson: consummate teacher and ‘all-around mensch’

Mitch Dorson

Mitch Dorson, 63, died unexpectedly on May 13, 2012. “His life was a story about a man standing for his principles,” says Rabbi Joseph Weizenbaum, who worked with Mr. Dorson at Temple Emanu-El. “He never backed off” of those principles teaching social studies, first at Catalina Foothills High School for 10 years, then at Green Fields Country Day School since 2005.

Mr. Dorson was born in New York City. His family moved to Tucson when he was a preschooler. He graduated from Tucson High Magnet School and the University of Arizona, where he earned a journalism degree. He went on to take graduate studies at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs at Princeton University.

“He was very much his mother’s son,” recalls Weizenbaum. “She was a very vivacious woman with strong convictions about Judaism and politics. In the mid-’70s, she walked into my office and said, ‘You’ve got to meet my son. You’ll really get along.’ And we did.”  Mr. Dorson was an educator for more than three decades, including 15 years as a religious school director at Temple Emanu-El.

More recently, notes Weizenbaum, “he invited me to his classes at Green Fields. Those kids loved him. He was a very special person. He touched a lot of people. All I can say is anyone who had him for a teacher will always remember him. And that’s not an exaggeration.”

Even Mr. Dorson’s non-Jewish teaching colleagues have referred to him as “Mitch the Mensch.” He joined the social studies department at CFHS in 1995, says Carrie Brennan, now director of City High School. “He was part of a talented team of thoughtful historians, rock-solid teachers, and advocates for school reform and social justice. Mitch was a passionate individual who loved life, loved history, and loved teaching.”

Judaism was “so important to him,” says Rabbi Thomas Louchheim of Congregation Or Chadash, who knew Mr. Dorson for 23 years. “Mitch was one of those Jews who felt the prophets informed his life,” says the rabbi. “He lived social justice all the time. He was always the guy for the cause.”

Louchheim taught seventh grade B’nai Mitzvah classes with Mr. Dorson for nearly a decade. “He helped kids write their sermons. Mitch made a complete connection with each and every individual student. That’s what made him so special. We were together almost every single week. I’ll miss him.”

Stuart Mellan, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, posted Tuesday on his Facebook page that Mr. Dorson was “truly one of a kind…He will be missed and remembered for the caring, kind and passionate community educator that he was.”

A memorial service will be held on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at the Tucson Jewish Community Center. Memorial contributions may be made to the Community Food Bank or UNICEF.

Mr. Dorson is survived by his children, Elana (Mike) Giordano and Noah Dorson; and his brother, Bob (Nancy) Dorson of Tucson.