Coulson, 88, served as chief architect for The Woodlands Development Company for 30 years and was a close advisor to Woodlands founder George Mitchell, said Bruce Tough, son and chairman of The Woodlands Township. Coulson played a major role in the design and development of many of the community’s early commercial projects, spearheaded the outdoor sculpture program and is the namesake for Conroe ISD’s Tough Elementary School.
“My dad is probably the most unassuming team member that George Mitchell hired,” Bruce said. “He’s dedicated [to] doing the best job possible and was one of those guys who did not require any attention—he just did his job. He was one of Mitchell’s most trusted team members.”
The son of Scottish immigrants, Coulson grew up in Detroit and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps at 17.
After his military service, he earned a degree in architecture from the University of Michigan, Coulson said, and accepted a job at the University of California-Los Angeles in the planning department. He helped design and open UCLA-Irvine and then was brought back to Texas when he was recruited by the University of Houston, where he was named vice president.
“Around 1969, the Texas Board of Higher Education recommended [UH] start a campus south of Houston and in the north, but we had to get the land at no cost to the university, and it was my responsibility to get that done,” Coulson said. “I negotiated with the Friendswood Development Corp. to get land for a campus in Clear Lake, and when we started looking in the north, that’s when I met George Mitchell.”
Coulson’s experience and expertise piqued Mitchell’s interest, and Coulson was in turn intrigued by the large-scale nature of Mitchell’s project, The Woodlands.
Bruce said of the many individuals Mitchell worked with in those early days, Mitchell and Coulson remained close and often met for breakfast to discuss various projects. When Coulson retired from the Development Company, Mitchell recruited him again to design several buildings for Texas A&M University.
Coulson has remained active in The Woodlands community since its inception, serving as chairman of The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce, as a member of The Woodlands Rotary Club and as a CISD trustee for six years.
“What I’ve really enjoyed is being involved in the community,” Coulson said. “But I did enjoy my work as an architect, and I got to work with a lot of good and bright people.”