Updated: Woodlands founder George Mitchell, 94, dies

Updated at 12:05 p.m.

Woodlands founder and developer George Mitchell has died. Mitchell, 94, died Friday morning, according to The Mitchell Family Corporation and Bruce Tough, chairman of The Woodlands Township Board of Directors.

Tough said Mitchell died at approximately 10 a.m. and had recently been in poor health. Born in Galveston on May 21, 1919, Mitchell founded Mitchell Energy and Development Co., and opened The Woodlands—one of the most successful master-planned communities in the country—in 1974.

Tough and his father, Coulson Tough, were close personal friends of Mitchell. Tough said his father was one of the original developers hired to help establish The Woodlands in the early 1970s, and he got to know Mitchell over the years through business dealings, events and festivals in The Woodlands.

"I still refer to him as Mr. Mitchell, as do most people," Tough said. "He was a great man who did great things."

Tough called Mitchell a visionary for his work in developing The Woodlands, the Mitchell Energy and Development Company, his work in establishing fracking, and his efforts to redevelop Galveston—his hometown—following Hurricane Ike. Tough said in the past few years, Mitchell enjoyed having breakfast at The Woodlands Resort and Conference Center, and The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center to discuss his business and the future of The Woodlands.

"Even though he sold his share, he was cared about the future of The Woodlands," Tough said.

He said Mitchell was interested in ensuring The Woodlands would not be annexed by the city of Houston.

"Mr. Mitchell was a visionary and we hope to continue his legacy with The Woodlands Township," Tough said.

Alex Sutton and Tim Welbes, co-presidents of The Woodlands Development Company said they were "deeply saddened" by Mitchell's passing.

"He will be forever remembered as a true visionary and philanthropist who helped shape the State of Texas and the world with his innovative ideas on energy, community development, science and technology," Sutton and Welbes said in a press release. "The initiatives he started and so generously supported throughout his lifetime will continue to have a far-reaching effect on energy production and global sustainability."

Welbes and Sutton said people who live and work in The Woodlands are indebted to Mitchell for his vision for the community, which has grown to more than 100,000 people and 1,900 businesses.

"He created one of the most successful models for master-planned community developments in the world by providing for the civic, cultural and spiritual needs of residents as well as superior infrastructure, all with extreme care for the forested environment," they said. "As we look out the windows of our offices at 24 Waterway Avenue, at the streets of Town Center and the forests of our nine villages, we recognize that his legacy is indeed thriving and his vision will live on into perpetuity. He will be greatly missed."

Mitchell remained hands on with The Woodlands following the sale of community in 1997, Welbes and Sutton said.

"As unassuming as he was, you always knew you were in the presence of greatness when you were with him," they said. "We are fortunate to have been part of his executive team through the years, and to enjoy the benefits of his extensive knowledge and generosity.

Roger Galatas worked with Mitchell for 20 years, recalling his first day with the Mitchell Corporation on Feb. 1, 1979.

"I worked for him closely for those 20 years and had a chance to get to know him and his family, and his wonderful wife Cynthia who was a guiding light for a lot of us in The Woodlands," Galatas said. "It's a great family, and he will be missed."

Galatas called Mitchell an "impressive person" for his vision, but said he was also never egotistical or arrogant. He said Mitchell did a lot of business over the telephone, often making phone calls late at night to discuss issues.

"George Mitchell was a tremendous inspirational person to work with," Galatas said. "He had vision and tenacity and ability to keep focused on building one of the best communities in the country. The Woodlands is a tribute to his real estate knowledge and his commitment to building this community."

With Mitchell also a leader in the oil and gas industry, Galatas attributed much of the recent national success of the shale and oil gas plays to Mitchell's contributions to the energy sector. But whether it was significant decisions in oil and gas or The Woodlands' development or the smallest detail, Galatas said Mitchell cared about every issue.

"No issue was too big for George and no detail was too small," Galatas said. "He had the full range of interest in his mind every day."

Township Vice Chairman Peggy Hausman, a resident in The Woodlands since 1980, remembered having breakfast with Mitchell every Friday morning during the township's transition to discuss developer-control to resident-control of The Woodlands.

"He was so supportive, and always emphasized that The Woodlands should be a hometown for everyone," she said in a press release. "We owe so much of what we have to Mr. Mitchell. We have always looked to him for his vision and his leadership. We will always remember what he has made possible for us, and he will be greatly missed. We extend our heartfelt sorrow and sympathies to the Mitchell family."

Ann Snyder, president and CEO of Interfaith of The Woodlands, was also saddened to hear of Mitchell's death.

"There are truly not enough words to describe what a tremendous businessman, visionary, and friend to so many that Mr. Mitchell was," Snyder said. "For The Woodlands to be one of the premier places to live and work in Texas is a true testament to Mr. Mitchell's dedication and hard work. Because of his tireless efforts spanning the last 40 years, thousands of families and individuals have the opportunity to live and work in our incredible community. He will certainly be missed."

Mitchell was preceded by his wife, Cynthia Woods Mitchell, who died in 2009.

By Matt Stephens
Matt Stephens joined Community Impact Newspaper in December 2012. A Tomball native and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Matt joined as a reporter for The Woodlands team before being promoted to help launch the Spring | Klein edition in spring of 2014 and later to North Houston managing editor in late 2015. He has served as managing editor to the Phoenix and Nashville papers since August 2020.