Person of the Year: George P. Mitchell

George Mitchell’s contributions to education, research and philanthropy have changed the lives of many Houstonians and his work in energy development has made him the Thomas Edison of the oil industry. His drive, innovation and perseverance make him Intown Magazine’s Person of the Year.


“Throughout my life I've seen firsthand how even a little financial assistance could mean a chance for struggling students, dedicated scientists, and families to reach their goals.”These are the famous words of the late businessman and philanthropist.

George Phydias Mitchell who was born to Greek immigrant parents and grew up a teenager during the Great Depression. He was still well aware of the opportunities for those living in America. Coming from a humble yet loving household, George Mitchell paid for his college education running a tailoring and laundry business in College Station and by selling candy and stationary to his fellow Aggie students. He graduated first in his class from Texas A&M University with degrees in petrochemical engineering and geology. After he graduated college. George spent four years in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War ll. He later became A & M’s largest benefactor with donations topping $95 million.

With his degree in geology and a family to support, George Mitchell knew that he needed to make money so he bought a share in Oil Drilling Incorporated in December of 1946. This proved to be a wise investment. In the late 1940s, Oil Drilling put together prospects and investors and went on to discover or develop production in a score of Texas fields. Soon , it began exploration and production operations in Alberta and on the Ontario side of Lake Erie.

In 1952, a Chicago bookie called George Mitchell and tried to sell him a 10,000-acre lease in North Texas, which at the time was said to be an area with a bad reputation for oil drilling. Going against the conventional wisdom, Mitchell bought the lease and drilled near Bridgeport, where he opened what would become Mitchell Energy's extraordinarily successful North Texas holdings. During 1953, the company drilled 13 consecutive producing development wells there and by the end of the year it had more than 300,000 North Texas acres under lease--an area which even in the early 1990’s was still the heart of Mitchell Energy's production. After purchasing the remaining stock of Merlyn Christie (one of the company shareholders) in 1962 George Mitchell changed the name of the company to Mitchell & Mitchell Gas and Oil.

Wanting to expand his company outside of the oil and natural gas industry, Mitchell purchased a 50,000 acre tract in Montgomery and Grimes Counties where he would enter the real estate development and in 1974 it became The Woodlands. It was to operate with the concept of building a community calling for the preservation of trees, protecting the environment, minimizing flooding and creating a pleasant urban environment.

The old saying is that behind every successful man there is a woman. Cynthia Woods was born in New York City in 1922 to a single mother during the Great Depression. Along with her twin sister, the family moved to Houston in 1939 where she studied psychology, literature and art at the University of Houston. Cynthia Mitchell always loved the arts and was the driving force behind the couples many artistic and humanitarian causes. Working closely with UH leadership, the family proposed a programmatic alliance among the schools of Art, Music, and Theatre & Dance, as well as the Creative Writing Program and Blaffer Art Museum. $16 million was designated to form an endowment for the Centers programs, and $4 million covered the renovation of the School of Theatre & Dance facility, making room for new studios, a lobby for the Wortham Theatre, and offices for the Mitchell Center staff. The building was also renamed the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts.

George Mitchell commenced the revitalization of Galveston with his initial purchase and restoration of 17 nineteenth century commercial iron-front buildings in Galveston’s historic downtown, while also owning and operating three hotels including The Tremont House and Galvez Hotel, which have undergone extensive revitalizations. In 1985, the Mitchell’s revived the mid-winter Mardi Gras celebration in Galveston, which now draws over 500,000 visitors annually.

Investors and employees of George Mitchell many times questioned his decision making only to be proven wrong. He was criticized on his visions ranging from his real estate developments, drilling locations to finding new efficient methods of extracting natural gas from underground. In the 1980’s and into the early 1990’s, Mitchell set out to find an efficient way to extract natural gas from underground shale rock formations. It would take seventeen years and many millions ,but he never gave up. The resulting innovation is a technique combined with hydraulic fracturing of rock which makes it possible to economically extract natural gas from shale rock formations. This new innovation has changed the industry and has produced more than half a million new jobs across the country. This new technique has been widely adopted by the gas industry and spawned a new gas boom in North America. .

A strong believer in the power of education and sciences George Mitchell has donated over $160 million universities and research centers. He also founded the Houston Advanced Research Center a non-partisan multi university institution that promotes sustainability practices and he also helped establish the Texas Climate and Change program to help ensure a clean energy future for Texas.

“When I was a boy, I was fascinated by the stars because I thought one day we might be able to get there”- George P. Mitchell. Get there he did. Prior to his passing, George P. Mitchell joined the Giving Pledge sponsored by Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates, making public his and his wife Cynthia’s long-held private intent that the majority of their wealth would be donated to charitable causes. The Giving Pledge is an effort to help address society’s most pressing problems by inviting the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to commit to giving more than half of their wealth to philanthropic or charitable causes either during their lifetime or in their will. The Giving Pledge grants money to organizations each individual person who pledges makes the decision about which particular causes or organizations they wish to support.

The Life of George Phydias Mitchell

1901 Savvas Paraskevopoulos arrives at Ellis Island as an immigrant at the age of 20 from the village of Nestani in Arcadia, Greece.

1919 George Phydias Mitchell is born in Galveston, Texas where his father Savvas ran a cleaning and shoe shine business.

1940 George Mitchell graduated first in his class at Texas A&M University with degrees in petrochemical engineering and geology.

1941-1943 Cynthia Woods meets George P. Mitchell on Thanksgiving on a train from College Station to Houston and this encounter led to their marriage on Halloween 2 years later.

1946 Mitchell Energy and Development Company began as a packager of energy investments.

1963 George Mitchell bought the Grogan-Cochran Land Company, whose 50,000-acre tract in Montgomery and Grimes Counties would later figure prominently in Mitchell Energy's real estate developments.

1969 Mitchell formed Brazos Gas Compressing to provide compression service for the company's Southwestern and West Cen-Tex Pipeline systems andMitchell & Mitchell discovered 100 billion cubic feet of gas in Lafitte's Gold Field on Galveston Island.

1974 George Mitchell opened his ambitious real estate development The Woodlands.

1976 The Mitchell’s commenced the revitalization of Galveston.

1990 The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion opens to the public

1990’s George P. Mitchell finally finds a way of developing horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, finding success in North Texas' Barnett Shale formation and what would lead to a nationwide boom in energy development and job creation.

2004 Forbes magazine estimated George P. Mitchell’s net worth as $1.6 billion placing him among the 500 richest people world-wide

2005 The Mitchells pledged $35 million toward the construction of the George P. Mitchell '40 Physics Building and the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy.

2013 On July 26 George P. Mitchell dies at the age of 94 of unknown causes. 2010 He joined the Giving Pledge