Legendary developer, philanthropist George Mitchell dead at 94

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by Michelle Homer / KHOU.com

Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, DPW

Posted on July 26, 2013 at 12:41 PM

Updated Friday, Jul 26 at 10:44 PM

HOUSTON—Galveston-born businessman, billionaire developer and philanthropist George P. Mitchell died Friday morning at the age of 94.

His legacy is unmatched in Texas, extending from Galveston to Houston to The Woodlands and beyond.

Mitchell, the son of Greek immigrants, grew up on the island and was "raised as a child of meager means," his family said in a statement Friday.  He would become one of the nation’s wealthiest men.

Mitchell graduated at the top of his class at Texas A&M University with degrees in petroleum engineering and geology.

He became a wildcatter who went on to develop hydraulic fracking to recover natural gas from shale deposits.

Mitchell was a young lieutenant in the Army when he met his future wife on Thanksgiving 1941 on a train from College Station to Houston. It was the beginning of a beautiful and enduring love story.

At the height of World War II in 1943, Captain George Mitchell and Cynthia Woods were married by an Army chaplain in a double wedding with her twin sister and brother-in-law.

Their marriage spanned six decades with 10 children, 23 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.

The Mitchell partnership was equally as prolific outside the home.

The power couple shared a common vision that led to the development of the first master-planned community in The Woodlands. They later added the popular outdoor performance arts venue, the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.

"People used to say, ‘He must be crazy to pull that stupid project.’ Little did they know that we thought we were on the right track," Mitchell told KHOU 11 News anchor Len Cannon a few years ago.

The Mitchells made The Woodlands their home, but George never forgot his roots.

In 1976, the couple set out on a mission to preserve and revitalize their beloved Galveston Island, beginning with the Strand Historic District.

They  transformed the old Blum building into the charming, European-style Tremont House. They bought and restored the historic beachfront Galvez Hotel, then added another iconic destination to the Seawall in 1984 with The San Luis Hotel.

In 1985, the Mitchells turned their attention to Galveston’s renaissance and brought back the  Mardi Gras celebration that draws 500,000 visitors to the island each winter.

In 2002, Cynthia was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She died in 2009 at 87 years old, leaving her husband heartbroken, but determined to help find a cure for Alzheimer’s.

He contributed millions to Alzheimer’s research at the George and Cynthia Mitchell Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases at UTMB in Galveston. He also helped establish the George P. and Cynthia Mitchell Center for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Brain Disorders at The University of Texas Health Science Center.

The Mitchells were generous benefactors of the Houston Symphony, Houston Grand Opera, Houston Ballet and United Way. They established the Global Children’s Foundation that provides safe havens to children affected by war.

Throughout his life, Mitchell "believed in giving back to the community that made his success possible and lending a hand to the less fortunate struggling to reach their potential," the Mitchell family said Friday. "He will be fondly remembered for flying in the face of convention—focusing on ‘what could be,’ with boundless determination—many times fighting through waves of skepticism and opposition to achieve his vision."

When asked about his legacy in 2008, Mitchell was characteristically modest.

"So I think I’ll have enough things people can point to, ‘He did this, he did that,’" Mitchell told KHOU 11 News anchor Len Cannon. "That’s all. That’s enough."

More than enough, Mr. Mitchell. Rest in peace.

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