George Mitchell, the visionary billionaire oilman who developed The Woodlands and led the revitalization of Galveston, died Friday morning. He was 94.
Mitchell died of natural causes in Galveston surrounded by his family, according to a statement. "We are and will forever be grateful for the gift of this remarkable life. There’s no doubt that he helped make this world a better place," the statement concluded.
Born to Greek immigrant parents in Galveston, Mitchell earned a degree in petroleum engineering from Texas A&M University in 1940, graduating first in his class and was captain of the tennis team. Throughout his life, he was a major supporter of his alma mater, with donations of over $100 million. He brought in architect Michael Graves to design the George P. and Cynthia Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy and the George P. Mitchell Physics Building on the A&M campus.
Forbes magazine called him "the father of natural gas shale drilling" since he pioneered the use of hydraulic fracking to crack open the Barnett shale field.
Mitchell founded the independent oil and gas company, Mitchell Energy & Development Corp. and built it into a Fortune 500 company. Forbes magazine called him "the father of natural gas shale drilling" since he pioneered the use of hydraulic fracking to crack open the Barnett shale field in Texas in the mid-1990s. In 2002 Mitchell sold his company for $3.5 billion to Devon Energy.
In the early 1970s, he developed The Woodlands, a master planned community north of Houston that preserved trees and made the protection of the environment a top priority. The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands is named for his wife.
Mitchell and his wife also turned around Galveston's fortunes by reviving Mardi Gras on the Island in the mid-1980s and preserving many of the historic buildings on the Strand as well as the Hotel Galvez. Mitchell continued to enjoy Mardi Gras activities, most recently in February when he appeared in western attire for a cowboy-themed party at the Tremont House.
In 2009, Cynthia Mitchell died from Alzheimer's Disease. She was 87 years old. George Mitchell poured his considerable resources into Alzheimer’s research, funding Dr. Claudio A. Soto’s contributions at the George and Cynthia Mitchell Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases at UTMB in Galveston. He also established 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 also generous benefactors of the Houston Symphony, Houston Grand Opera, Houston Ballet, United Way and the University of Houston, home of the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts. He signed The Giving Pledge in 2011, committing the majority of his wealth to charity.
"George Mitchell leaves a lasting legacy that includes community-building, philanthropy and a passion for the arts," Mayor Annise Parker said in a statement. "His ambition and success have transformed our region, from The Strand in Galveston to building The Woodlands into a city of the future. He was a visionary, and showed his love for Houston through his work and hometown pride.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, as we commemorate his life and indelible contributions to Houston and the surrounding region."
A memorial service is set for Tuesday Aug. 6 at 5:30 p.m. in Galveston at Trinity Episcopal Church, 2216 Ball Avenue. Following the service, a celebration of Mitchell's life in Galveston will be held at Saengerfest Park, 23rd and Strand, at 7:00 p.m.
A memorial tribute celebrating Mitchell's contributions to science, energy and the environment will take place on Thursday Aug. 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands. The Houston Symphony will perform a tribute concert with remarks by special guests.