Tuesday, October 26, 2021

COLUMN: Oxford Mourns the Loss of Angelo Mistilis

By John Cofield

Special to Hotty Toddy News

He was a local legend for all the Oxford generations lucky enough to have known him during his 85 years. An icon to many Ole Miss classes, the expressions of sympathy for the passing of Angelo Mistilis have poured in from New York to Los Angeles and Miami to Seattle.

Glenn Cofield used to say that what made Oxford special was its deep bench. Someone is always there to step up when a monument to the town falls. But some shoes can never be filled. Their legacy will walk around town for decades to come. 

“John, we’ve talked with Momma and think as a tribute to Daddy we’ll publish the hamburger steak recipe. It feels right. Angelo loved his customers and will get a kick out of looking down at them trying to get it just right,” his son Joey Mistilis said.

Athanasius Salipa “Tom” Mistilis started it, but his second son made the smell of the family’s hamburger steak with onions a mainstay of Oxford eatery memories and a must-have for any Ole Miss alum back in town. Angelo and his wife, Jo Dale Slade Mistilis, also an Oxford native, carried on the family legacy and, in doing so, cemented their own place in the town and on campus.

Some Oxford High boys called Angelo “The Greek,” but Granddad Cofield called him “Butch,” and he said it, “Bootch.” Angelo is one of those rare childhood fathers who you got to call by their first name and were honored to be included on the list of the boys who could do so.

In high school, Angelo was a first-hand witness to a town tragedy. It was where Ole Miss baseball’s Swayze Field stands today. Then it was University High School’s Legend Field where the Colonels played football. Angelo was All-Conference from tenth grade on. And he heard the awful sound of the deadly hit and was the first teammate to reach Bobby Holcomb’s limp body.

He rolled Bobby over and looked into his eyes and knew they were in trouble. Angelo and seven teammates carried Bobby to his grave at St. Peter’s. Bobby was a teenager when the heart of our small town was broken all those seasons ago. On his grave, it reads: “His fearless buoyant youth will always live, revealing love and truth and radiant joy.”

Almost 70 years later the death of Angelo Mistilis reveals a legacy of love and truth and radiant joy.

“Angelo had a good heart,” said Bill Beckwith. “There was a time when he cooked at the jail. It was joked then that released prisoners wanted to hang around for one more meal before being made to leave. Angelo did things like buying art supplies for the prisoners and then buying the pieces they produced. He was nonjudgmental. He practiced harm reduction, a rare quality.”

Angelo’s chapters in Oxford history all come together with the Ole Miss and Oxford memories of driving out to the College Hill restaurant. Jo Dale was behind the register, the waitresses were hustling plates and drinks to tables, Johnny “Sunshine” Buford is cooking and singing, and Angelo, towel over his should, is dishing out his special brand of Oxford hospitality to tables full of rapt students and smiling locals.

“The old Oxford we all know and love has lost a Founding Father,” said Ed Meek. “Angelo was known and loved by thousands of Ole Miss students, alumni, and friends. When I traveled the nation meeting with alumni so many would ask about him and talked about enjoying his hospitality and famous hamburger steak with cheese, stacked high with onions and french fries.

“His father, Tom Mistillis, owned and operated a legendary restaurant located on the Square and he too is an icon fondly recalled by alumni. Angelo continued that tradition.”

The menu was full of fine meals. At the center of it all was Angelo’s hamburger steak. Many have tried to match it. I even heard of families having Angelo nights in their kitchens. As the legacy of his heart lives in town and across the Ole Miss family, so now does his way of making a delicious memory. 

And so the Mistilis family privately laid their patriarch to rest on Feb. 5, 2021, in Oxford – the only home he ever knew or wanted to know. Legends never die and Angelo dines with old Oxford’s finest now. The best we can do is honor his memory with thanks for what he left us, and hope we get those onions just right. Let no hamburger steak meal across the land not start with a toast to Angelo Mistilis.

Angelo leaves behind his beloved wife, Jo Dale Slade Mistilis, and his four wonderfully gregarious children, Dina, Joey, John, and Erin, and a bunch of grandkids and extended family. Old Oxford and the Ole Miss family will never forget him. He was more than any small town could ever ask for. 


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