Joan Mitchell
1947 - 2015
{ "" }
Share Joan's life story with friends and family
Send an Email
Or Copy this URL to Share
Joan L. Mitchell
May 24,1947 - Dec 2, 2015
Joan L. Mitchell, who grew up in Modesto, CA, passed away peacefully on December 2, 2015.  Joan was preceded in death by her parents William and Doris Mitchell, her sister Carol and her brother Donald. She is survived by three sisters, Norma Vance, Sandy Creighton, and Linda Mayer; her sister-in-law, Nancy Walker-Mitchell; her foster brother, Michael Johnson; and her many cherished nieces and nephews. 
Joan graduated from Thomas Downey High School and recently attended her fiftieth high school reunion where she enjoyed visiting with old friends and classmates.  She received her B.S. in Physics from Stanford University in 1969 and her M.S. and PhD. degrees in Physics from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in 1971 and 1974, respectively.
Joan began her career in the Exploratory Printing Technologies group at the IBM T. J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York, where her early inventions in printing technology led to IBM's Selectric Quietwriter typewriter.  However, her later inventions in the field of data compression and her persistent efforts during the late 80's and early 90's as a key contributor to JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) helped revolutionize the way we are all able to send, store and print digital images. Thank you Joan!  In 1992 she co-authored a book about JPEG and later during a two-year leave of absence from IBM, she co-authored a book about MPEG and spent a semester teaching and doing research at the University of Illinois.  
Joan received many awards and honors over the years, including IBM Fellow, the 2011 IEEE Masaru Ibuka Consumer Electronics Award, Leadership Award from the International Multimedia Telecommunications Consortium and the University of Illinois Distinguished Alumni Service Award, to name a few.  She is a holder of over 110 patents.
After retiring in 2009, Joan moved back home to Modesto to be close to family and friends, later moved to Las Vegas to live with her brother and sister-in-law, and most recently was living near a sister in Laguna Hills, CA.   Although Joan had challenges with vision and mobility during her last years, she never let those limitations affect her positive outlook.  As a research physicist and data compression pioneer, she leaves an amazing legacy of accomplishments that have changed the world, but her friends and family also fondly remember her for her lively imagination, her many stories, and her generous heart that sought only to bless others, and did bless them in countless ways.  She will be deeply missed.
There will be a private memorial at a future date in Yosemite National Park, one of her favorite places.

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in Modesto Bee on Dec. 9, 2015.
Memories & Condolences
Guest Book sponsored by Richard Pasco
Not sure what to say?
View Printed Guest Book
14 entries
March 10, 2018
While I was in graduate school, I read an article by Joan Mitchell, an outstanding female scientist working at IBM T.J. Watson, and the first female IBM fellow. As a woman in physics, I was so touched by her article that I wrote to the magazine editor, and asked for the permission to write to her, which she agreed to. Thus started our mentoring relationship. I finally got a chance to meet her when she came to give a talk at the University of Washington Mentoring for Leadership Series. I always felt quite fortunate to receive the letters she wrote to her father, which were great mentoring advise to so many on her email list. I felt very special that she took the time to talk to me, a student, on the phone or to send me a few mentoring advice. Joan has touched the lives of so many, and blessed so many. She was a bright star and a great mentor.
Esmeralda Yitamben
June 30, 2017
I was very sorry to hear from past JPEG colleagues of the early death of Joan. I worked with Joan during the late 80s on the original JPEG image coding standardisation activity. Joan was an IBM/USA delegate during my chairmanship of JPEG. I found Joan a quiet, thoughtful, cooperative person driven by a scientific mind. As well as contributing to the technical development, she, along with IBM colleague and fellow JPEG delegate William Pennebaker, has left a legacy of the now standard reference book on JPEG. She will be remembered by all those who worked with her on JPEG.
Graham Hudson
March 6, 2017
I have just learned that Joan has passed away already at the end of 2015. With Joan we have worked together on the JPEG standard since March of 1987 when the selection of the JPEG algorithm started. The IBM candidate method for JPEG, that came in in the very last minute was actually not the winning one, but it was absolutely critical how professionally the IBM people, including Joan have dealt with the situation. They admitted that they were not the best, but joined the winning technique and tremendously helped to improve it, what today is known as the JPEG standard. They were many things they have insisted with right, like real-time implementation of JPEG both in software and in hardware. Today, at least 5 billion JPEG images are created every day. Joan had a significant part in that effort. Last but not least she was a wonderful and very modest person, always very nice to meet and talk to, we will always miss but remember her.
Istvan Sebestyen
January 2, 2017
I only learned of Joan's passing a few months ago and then found this site today. Joan and Keith Pennington were responsible for taking a chance and hiring me to IBM. My background was not a good fit for what they were looking for, but they were willing to look over that aspect and dig deeper and see my potential for contribution beyond the titles in the diplomas or my prior experience. I think that act exemplifies one positive aspect of Joan's personality and wisdom. Joan was very passionate and strong minded, but she was also insightful and fair. She was my first boss at IBM and she introduced me to the world of JPEG. We did not always agree and sometimes this led to tough negotiations, but I believe that the mutual respect was always there.
Joan's contributions to the fax and JPEG standards were very significant, but there was more to it. Joan was also passionate about making sure that her work did not remain theoretical but that it was put into practice by incorporating it into multiple IBM products. I learned that skill from her and I always tried to imitate her example by going the whole way: researching, inventing, developing, productizing and selling. She did it all and more than once.
Cesar Gonzales
May 3, 2016
We had worked together on data compression algorithms at IBM Research in the 1980's and I had the highest respect for her intellect and business savvy. I just learned today that Joan had died. The world will be worse for her absence.
Richard Pasco
January 22, 2016
Joan was one of truly great minds of our age.
Nenad Rijavec
January 22, 2016
I had the pleasure of working with Joan for a number of years in the IBM Printing Systems Division. Joan was a caring person who was always trying to make the world a better place. I am glad to have known her.
Jack Condon
January 21, 2016
I remember when Joan took my husband and I out to dinner in Niwot several years. Joan was passionate about her job and helping others move up in theirs. She will be missed.
Kathy Pirie
December 23, 2015

Joan was a colleague and a manager at IBM Research in the Image Technologies department. Even though I did not work directly for her, we shared and contributed to some projects that help improved some IBM products. Her expertise was in compression algorithms. She participated in the Standards group that provided the basis for many of the advancements. She is hard working and a detail oriented individual. To understand the full extent of her impact, every time one sends a fax or take a digital photo or watch a youtube video, her work on compression was present.

She was one of the few colleagues that took an interest in mentoring. She tries to help younger members of our team to develop both professionally and personally. She was awarded with the status of IBM Fellows (one of a handful of women to achieve that status).
She made her impact and the world is a better place. She will be missed.
God bless.
Jack Lee
December 11, 2015
Mitchell family,
So sorry for your loss. May God comfort you during this difficult time.
Debi Streeter Brown
December 9, 2015
What I remember most about Joan was her patience. I was her lab partner in high school Chemistry: she frequently tried to explain to me what was going on. It was obvious to me she had an understanding beyond most of us. Clearly, she went on to embody those "high ideals" of TDHS. Hers was a life full of purpose.
Dick Swan
December 9, 2015
I've known Joan since the 5th grade. She was shy, quiet, and unbelievably intelligent. When she went off to college, I often wondered how she was doing, so I wasn't surprised to learn at our 50th high school reunion that she was an IBM "fellow" with over a hundred patents. We will always remember you, Joan.
Jerry Wilson
December 9, 2015
What an amazing woman you were Joan. The world was blessed by your presence and
I am greatful to have spent
4 years as your classmate at
Downey High School. May you rest in Peace.
Virginia Vasquez (Baggese)
December 9, 2015
So sad to hear that Joan has passed away - she was an amazing woman and I'm glad we got to see her at Downey Class of '65 reunion. She was voted "Most Intelligent" by her classmates when we graduated and she proved to be a genius with all her accomplishments.
Eileen Faria
Invite others to add memories
Share to let others add their own memories and condolences