Brother and Sister
Home Up Matriarch

 

Book One:

A SIMPLE ACT OF KINDNESS


PART FOUR: RETROSPECT

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR:
BROTHER AND SISTER

Written by Rick Archer

 © 2015, Richard Archer

 


SUBCHAPTER 104
- GEORGE AND MARIA

 

Another side to the story of George Mitchell was his dedication to Maria, his kid sister.

George was 13 and Maria was 11 when their mother Katina died due to a stroke.  It was a terrible tragedy.  Their mother was only 44 at the time. 

Then came another blow.  Shortly after their mother's untimely death, their father had a serious car accident. He suffered a badly shattered leg.  Their father was in no condition and no mood to take care of his children.

Johnny and Christie, the older brothers, were old enough to take care of themselves.  After their mother died, they went off on their own and were not around much.  Unfortunately, George and Maria were far too young to do the same.  Practically overnight, they had lost everything.  First their mother, then their father, and now their two older brothers.

This series of blows left the children reeling.  For a time, George and his sister Maria were forced to drift from home to home without any idea what their father was planning to do with them.

Things eventually stabilized for the children when their father's brother agreed to take George.  Maria went to a different home.  Under pressure, Maria's Aunt Virginia, Mike Mitchell's sister, agreed to take care of the girl.

Things were far from idyllic.  Maria hated being separated from her brother and missed him terribly.  In addition, her Aunt Virginia and Uncle Gus had three children of their own.  Maria grew up feeling worthless because neither adult paid much attention to her.

Young Maria was in a new home where there was little money and she wasn't welcome.  Making things tougher, she found herself ostracized by the Greek community due to her father's cozy relationship with the mob. 

Maria's father Mike Mitchell was not a member of the Maceo operation, but he did run errands for the Maceo brothers whenever there was a chance to earn a quick buck.

Gus and Virginia ran a family restaurant.  The restaurant was a favorite hangout for the Galveston mob, so the customers were usually a pretty rough crowd.  Maria's father popped in frequently to see if there was a job for him.  If she wasn't at school, this was generally the only time Maria saw her father.  Her father rarely paid a bit of attention to her. 

If there was no job for Mike Mitchell, often he would visit the hidden gambling casino at the restaurant.  Gambling was wide open in Galveston and prostitution was rampant.  The Maceo brothers had the police in their back pocket and operated at will. 

The Balinese Room down the street was the most popular place to gamble, but there was also gambling in a hidden room at the restaurant where Maria and George lived.  Typically two very dangerous looking men took turns sitting at the table guarding the entrance to the door.  It was their job to let the right people in and keep the wrong people out.

Inside the gambling casino was another door.  This door led to yet another side room where scarlet ladies shared their charms. 

When business was slow, the girls would invade the gambling area and ply the customers with cheap booze.  That was typically the easiest way to stimulate business, but if that didn't work, then the girls went outside on Post Street and whistled at every man within hearing distance till they got some action.

George took note of Maria's loneliness.  Abandoned by her father and neglected in her home, George recognized his sister was in pain oh too well.  It wasn't easy, but George felt a need to be strong for his sister.  After all, he had lost his mother too.    Truth be told, George needed Maria almost as much as she needed him.  At this point they became inseparable.

Maria with her older brother Johnny the white pants
and George in the dark pants.
 

   

George stepped into the void created by his father's absence to become the best Big Brother he possibly could.  Although they lived apart and went to different schools, every day George would make a point to check in on his kid sister. 

Many of their afternoons were spent playing tennis together.  George was an excellent player and loved the sport.  Although Maria was younger and nowhere near as fast, she was athletic enough to keep up.  Maria became George's favorite sparring partner. 

The constant day in day out volleying with Maria created a considerable improvement in George's game.  In fact, George became so good that he would one day become the captain of his tennis team in college (he would later donate the new "George P Mitchell" A&M tennis court as well.)

Like many boys of his generation, George believed it was a man's world. George showed no mercy tormenting his sister with his superiority.  Deeply competitive, he once told Maria she would never beat him.   Trying as hard as she could, Maria could never beat George in their after school matches.  Since Maria was competitive as well, tennis was a neverending frustration.

Interestingly, George would later torment his children in a similar way.  He had a standing bet with all his children that they would win a substantial reward if any of them could beat him at tennis before he reached 60.  Although he raised ten athletic children, none of them ever collected the reward.  So George raised the age to 65.  None of them ever collected this reward either. 

 

George was a terrific fisherman who made considerable money as a teenager selling the fish that he caught.  Always eager for his company, Maria got in the habit of tagging along with George for many of his fishing expeditions.  In the process, she became quite a fisherman in her own right.

Grant Mitchell, George's son, was amazed by his father's fishing prowess.  Grant told an anecdote about family fishing expeditions during his childhood.

George, father of 10, would round up four or five children and take the fishing boat into the bay whenever the weather permitted.  The kids were forever getting their fishing lines tangled.  Now they whined over their total inability to get the lines untangled. 

Grant reports how his father would patiently untangle each line, give some encouragement, and turn his son or daughter's attention back to the task of catching fish.  Five minutes later, someone else's line was tangled.  Here we go again. 

In the meantime, Mitchell caught one fish after another.

Grant was incredulous.  His father had spent practically all his time solving these problems and still managed to catch more fish than everyone else in the boat combined.

Grant would later conclude this accomplishment was the perfect metaphor for his father's life.  

Only George Mitchell could spend all his time untangling one mess after another and still be able to accomplish more than anyone else on the planet.

 

Immediately following their mother's death and their father's disappearance, George and Maria were probably scared out of their minds.  Their two older brothers took off and their relatives didn't exactly step up willingly.

During this time, they had each other but practically no one else.  Now they grew as close together as possible for a brother and a sister.  For a while there, it was George and Maria against the world.  Drawing strength and courage from the other's presence, together they overcame the terrible blow of losing their parents.

There were many times when the brother and the sister were alone.  During these moments, George and Maria talked about their parents often. 

They agreed their parents deserved a lot of credit for having the courage to leave their homeland for the 5,000 mile trip to America.  George said he had the exact same instinct within him.  George said he identified with the Mexican immigrants who risked their lives to come to Texas.  His father and mother had shown great determination within them to come to America.  Likewise George said that if he was a Mexican, no wall and no river would ever stop him from coming to America.

George told his sister throughout his life he would take any risk necessary and do whatever it took to succeed in life.  George said there was a powerful will in his Greek blood to succeed at any cost.  Maria nodded.  She felt the same way.

Neither George nor Maria could figure out what had happened to their father.  Before their mother's death, he had been a hard-working man with his own business.  Mike Mitchell had somehow fallen off the path, but George and Maria agreed that they would never do the same.  Nothing would stop them.

Out of the pain of losing their parents, they made another promise as well.  George and Maria vowed that when the day came to be parents themselves, they would become the finest parents imaginable. 

The three year period that George and Maria spent together after their mother's tragic death undoubtedly marked the birth of the incredible Mitchell-Ballantyne legacy... Family first, hard work, determination, and the resolve to never quit.  

   

During the years immediately following her mother's death, Maria's life as a young girl wasn't miserable, just lonely.  Her life was bearable thanks to George's constant presence.

However, her home life was tough when George was not around. Maria was forced to grow up fast.  Maria spent many a night washing dishes at the family restaurant.  Then she went to her room and studied hard.  Like her brother George, Maria was convinced that education held the best route out of this fix they were in.

George made it out first when he went off to Texas A&M in 1935.  His departure triggered the toughest time of Maria's life.  Uncle Gus and Aunt Virginia had wanted to move to San Antonio for some time, but hesitated due to the relationship of George and Maria.  Now with George gone, there was no reason to postpone the move any longer.  So off to San Antonio they went. 

Maria was completely alone in the new city.  She missed her brother terribly.  Her brother George was virtually her only friend in the world and now he was gone. 

George understood very clearly what his sister was going through.  While he was away at A&M and she was in high school in San Antonio, George wrote letters constantly as a way to stay in touch.  Maria kept every single one of the letters and read them whenever she got down.

Unfortunately George was in no position to look out for his lonely sister to any great extent.  He was fighting tooth and nail to stay in school at A&M.  Since George had virtually no money, he took every job he could find.  He waited on tables at the residence hall for 25 cents an hour.  He built book cases and sold them to A&M cadets.  He sold candy.  He sold stationary to lovesick freshman.

Three times George came within a whisker of being tossed.  Finally the day came when George was done for.  He couldn't pay up.  Almost against his will, George was forced to turn to the last person he could think of. 

That was the moment when George pleaded to his father for help.  At this point, Sam Maceo, the famous Galveston mobster, stepped up to give his father Mike the money George needed at the most crucial time imaginable. 

Then came the day when Maria was ready for college as well.

Amazingly, her two older brothers had gone to college and now George was a senior at A&M at the top of his class.  This was quite an accomplishment for a first generation of Greek immigrants.  It was even more impressive considering their mother was dead and their father never lifted a finger.

However, money was tight in her home and it didn't look good for her chances.  Maria was deeply upset.  It broke her heart to know she would be the only sibling unable to go to college.

One day a letter arrived.

George had written to insist that Maria go to college.  Enclosed was a check to cover enrollment.  George was in his Senior year now in college. George explained he saved up money from his summer job and now he had an extra job at school.  George promised to keep sending money.  He added how pleased he was to finally be in a position to help.

Maria guessed the truth.  In her heart, she knew that George was working himself to the bone, but she also knew George meant what he said when he begged her to accept his help and go to college.

It all worked out.  Somehow there would be enough money for Maria's education.

While Maria was in college, George's support was unwavering. George constantly sent letters of encouragement.  One heartfelt letter at Christmas time would become family lore.  In this letter, George promised to take care of his kid sister Maria through thick and thin. 

George explained how incredibly protective he felt towards Maria.  George told his kid sister that one day he would give her the life she dreamed of. 

In the letter, George called attention to how lucky they were to have each other and that they would always be a family.

George never wavered from his promise.  He and Maria were close their entire life.  They would go on to create two large families full of remarkable children. 

George and Maria agreed that they had so little in terms of money and home life that it toughened them and softened them at the same time.

In one sense, their hardships made them determined to do whatever was necessary to find success later in life. 

On the flip side, their suffering made them both determined to give back any way they could once they were in a position to help. 

It seems obvious that their early struggles became the source of their deep empathy for the less fortunate.

 


SUBCHAPTER 105
-
GEORGE MITCHELL Through MY eyes

 

Rick Archer's Note:

I never met George Mitchell, a fact I deeply regret.  That said, based on everything I read about him, I genuinely admire this man.  From the moment I read about how he worked his way through college like I had, I felt an immediate kinship. 

Some of the stories about him literally brought tears to my eyes... how he took care of his children, how he saved a city park from being turned into a parking lot, and how kindly he treated his crippled friend Stephen Hawking. 

It is sad that George Mitchell, an avid tennis player and fitness buff, would one day wind up confined to a motorized chair just like his friend Stephen.  However, I had to smile when I read the two men used their cars to race each other.  Too funny!

To be honest, I had never even heard of George Mitchell until 2013.  Mrs. Ballantyne never mentioned a word about him other than a brief comment that her brother had once sold her a vacant lot on the edge of River Oaks back in the Sixties. 

I discovered Mitchell's identity by accident when I began writing my book.  One morning I visited the Internet to see if there was any information on Mrs. Ballantyne I could use for my book. 

The billionaire and the physicist.
George Mitchell and Stephen Hawking were close friends

 

I typed in Mrs. Ballantyne's name and a picture from the Hotel Galvez website appeared in the 'Images' section.

I recognized Mrs. Ballantyne immediately, but not the man she was hugging.  The caption said the man was her brother... some guy named George Mitchell. 

At the time, I had no idea who George Mitchell was.  So out of curiosity, I googled his name.  To my surprise, this guy had a Wikipedia profile.  Now that was an eye-opener.  So I clicked in.  The moment I read Mr. Mitchell's Wikipedia profile, I was stunned.

I had no idea my friend Maria Ballantyne had a billionaire for a brother!

As I have said, George Mitchell accomplished so much in his life that I can just barely scratch the surface.  In fact, the more achievements I list, the more this man begins to overwhelm my imagination. 

It wasn't just Mitchell's accomplishments that made me admire him so much.  It was George Mitchell's decency as a human being that caught my attention.  There is so much greatness about this man. 

My friend Maria Ballantyne once said that no other success can compensate for failure in the home.

George Mitchell was the absolute embodiment of that ideal. No doubt he and his sister reached that conclusion during their lonely moments together.  They were terribly affected by the death of their mother and the subsequent abandonment of their father.  I suspect they vowed to be great parents... and succeeded royally.

Everything I read about George Mitchell spoke to the love and respect he had for his wife Cynthia. 

I am convinced he was a pretty good father as well.  After studying the accomplishments of his son Grant and his daughter Sheridan in rebuilding Galveston, I can see he passed his love for Galveston on to them.

The names of George and Cynthia's children are:
Pamela Maguire, Meredith Dreiss, Scott Mitchell, Sheridan Lorenz, Mark Mitchell, Kent Mitchell, Greg Mitchell, Kirk Mitchell, Todd Mitchell and Grant Mitchell. 

Rick Archer's Note:  This is the picture that first brought George Mitchell to my attention.

George Mitchell and his sister Maria Ballantyne... what a team!

George and his lovely girlfriend Cynthia

   George and Cynthia with Maria and Jay


Cynthia Woods was a New York native who had moved to Houston to study art, literature and psychology at the University of Houston. 

While serving in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War II, George Mitchell met his future wife during a train ride on Thanksgiving Day, 1941.  George was returning to Houston from the A&M - UT football game.  Everyone was in a bad mood because A&M had been undefeated until the Texas Longhorns came to College Station and beat the Aggies.

The story of how George met Cynthia reminded me of an old joke.

   Q: What is the easiest way to get the attention of a pretty girl?
   A:  Hang the Congressional Medal of Honor around your neck. 

In George Mitchell's own words:

"So here I am on the train.  There are these two attractive girls, twin sisters, identical, both beautiful. 

The one I liked had a blind date with an A&M senior.  He wasn't paying any attention to her because he was still upset over the big loss.  Me?  Hey, I had forgotten about the game.  I was more worried how I was going to get her name.

Cynthia sensed my interest, so she tried to get her date to go to the back of the car to take care of something.  Aha, I smiled, this was my chance to get her number.

But this senior didn't leave.  He must have been suspicious.  He looked at me, then looked at my bag and saw something.

I had won some sort of tennis medal.  I was captain of the A&M tennis team and all that stuff.  He recognized the A&M insignia, so he grabbed my medal and pulled it out. 

The medal was attached to a gold watch and it fell on the floor.  Cynthia saw the watch and asked if it had any significance.  I explained I had won the watch as the top engineering student of A&M. 

Cynthia's expression changed on the spot.  That's all it took.  Once Cynthia saw that watch, that was it. So I started going out with her.  We were married a year later on Halloween Day.

We had 10 children.  Cynthia was a wonderful wife and a wonderful mother.  I loved her so much. 

Everything I did, we did together... Family, philanthropy, rebuilding Galveston.  Cynthia was the love of my life."

 


SUBCHAPTER 106
- THE WOODLANDS

 

Building The Woodlands 30 miles north of Houston was an amazing project.  Built deep into the woods, George Mitchell said he wanted his development to be so special that it would "entice city slickers looking for far-flung suburban quality of life."

Immediately the critics surfaced.  Local sources stated that the HUD New Town program, a federally funded program, had a "low survival rate". They questioned whether The Woodlands would succeed.

If these critics knew George Mitchell, they would realize what a favor they had done for him.  Mitchell loved being told what he couldn't do.  His ambitious project included a conference center, hotels, office parks, retail malls, schools, large distribution centers, homes and beautiful golf courses. 

Mitchell got his wish... indeed one corporate executive after another fell in love with the place.  However these bigwigs didn't like the commute.  So what did they do?  They moved their headquarters out to The Woodlands instead!!

The Woodlands won a Special Award for Excellence in 1994 from the Urban Land Institute.  One can only wonder what the critics said that day.

Named for his wife... Cynthia Woods... the Woodlands was a planned community embedded within 27,000 acres of pine forest.

Mitchell was an early conservationist who became a persistent voice for “sustainable,” i.e. environmentally responsible economic growth. 

Mitchell wished to demonstrate how civilization and nature could be intertwined harmoniously if humans were willing to use sufficient imagination. 

With these ideas in mind, he created The Woodlands, building homes and commercial areas to exist in harmony with the beautiful pine forest. 

The master plan called for preserving trees, protecting the environment, minimizing flooding and creating ways to blend homes and forest together.

Mitchell's understanding of how to integrate modern technology with environmental responsibility was light years ahead of its time.

People have called The Woodlands the City of the Tomorrow and the City of the Future

George Mitchell was definitely way ahead of his time.  The man had the ability to envision things like few other people.  But lots of people have good ideas, then quit at the first sign of negativity.

Not George Mitchell.  What really set Mitchell apart was his ability to make it happen.  George Mitchell was special because he possessed the dogged determination to get his vision accomplished despite all the obstacles and all the naysayers. 

 


SUBCHAPTER 107
- THE TEXAS CRUISE INDUSTRY

Am I impressed that George Mitchell went from rags to riches?  Yes.

Am I impressed that George Mitchell donated $400 million dollars to Texas A&M and created the Astrophysics program?   Yes.

Am I impressed that George Mitchell invested over one billion dollars in the rebuilding of Galveston?  Absolutely.

I am also impressed that George Mitchell brought the cruise industry to Galveston.  The Galveston cruise industry is something I could relate to.  I know the Galveston cruise industry well because my wife Marla is a travel agent.  Together Marla and I have taken over twenty cruise trips that have departed from Galveston.

Indeed, Galveston cruise trips have played an important role in my life.  I first met Marla on the Carnival Celebration in 2001.  In 2004, I married Marla aboard the Royal Caribbean Rhapsody

Both trips originated from the same Galveston cruise terminal that George Mitchell had persuaded Galveston officials to invest in.   When I learned that George Mitchell had helped build the place where I was married, I smiled.  Without George Mitchell, how would I have ever met the love of my life? 

To understand the magnitude of Mitchell's accomplishment, one needs to understand that they had to build the cruise terminal before they had the ships. They did this based solely on the strength of George Mitchell's firm belief that this would pay off.  This was a huge, very expensive gamble.

Mitchell was convinced a cruise ship would do well.  However, very few  people agreed.  Fortunately, George Mitchell's dogged determination won the day. In the end, it turned out Mitchell's vision was absolutely correct.  

Mitchell's help in getting Galveston's cruise ship pier built would pay off grandly.  Galveston became the major cruise port in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Nor did his amazing contribution end there.  Sam Maceo, the Galveston Godfather, had created jobs that would one day disappear.  George Mitchell created jobs that would stay a lot longer.  Every time I visited Galveston, I saw all those people working at the cruise terminal.  The porters, the parking lot attendants, the greeters, the police, registration desk clerks - every one of those people is a Galveston local.  Mitchell's vision paid off perfectly.

This excerpt from a 2013 George Mitchell interview tells the story. 

This picture was taken an hour after the wedding. 
Marla and I thought we were alone.  Guess not.
 


George Mitchell: 
"We worked hard to get the cruise ships down here.  Oh, yes, indeed we did.

I had a friend tell me, 'George, how in the hell did you get the cruise ships down here?  What a great move!   We like visiting Galveston.  Hey, you're costing me money.  My wife says we need to come down and buy some real estate here as well.'

Sure enough, bringing in the cruise ships was an eye opener.  It made everybody realize something big is going on down here. So now we're pushing to put two more cruise ships at the Del Monte terminal.  They would have seven cruise ships in a row and you should get an aerial picture of that.  Impressive!

Fort Lauderdale, Florida, would be jealous.  I'm telling you, they would be.

Pretty soon everybody's going to be saying the same thing, 'What the hell is going on in Galveston??'

There's an interesting story about that.  I kept asking the cruise terminal people to do something.  We had a committee, but they weren't very strong.  I wasn't getting anywhere.  So then I'd ask the Galveston Port Authority, "Hey, you've got all this empty space down at the docks.  Why don't you work on getting the cruises?"

They said, "Well, no, George, we don't have a chance. They don't give us the time of day."

What a runaround.  I got tired of listening to them.  So I sent a representative to Miami four years straight, at my own expense, five thousand dollars a pop, just to talk to the cruise ship companies.  "Why don't you come to Galveston?  Give it a try."

Every time I did that, the Port would send me a message, "You're wasting your time, Mitchell.  You're wasting your money and you're wasting your time.  They won't come here."

Finally I said, "Hey, give me a package.  Let me see what I can do."

So I got the Galveston port people to say, "Okay, this is what the taxes will be; this is what this would be; this is what that would be." 

I was impressed.  These were good terms.  Now I had something I could put on the table.   So I took it to the cruise ship people and they thought it looked pretty good too.  So now they were interested.  And that's when it happened.  A guy looked at me and said, "George, where are the customers going to come from?" 

All the others nodded.   They had serious frowns on their faces.   The deal hung in the balance.  I looked at them dumb-founded.  Were these guys kidding me?  No, they were dead serious!  They didn't get it.  They actually didn't get it at all.  So I spoke up.

"Gentlemen, there are 12 million people who live within a 300 mile radius of
 Galveston.  The 4th largest city in America is just over the causeway.  NASA is our
 next door neighbor.  This is an untapped market!  You are looking at a gold mine!
"

George and Maria
 

They all started to blink like this was the first time they had ever heard this.  Now they started to nod.  Yeah, this might just work!

They said, "Well, we are going to have to do some serious advertising."

So I said, "Come to Galveston and we will help you do the promotion for the first year.  What do you need?"

They said they wanted $250,000 to begin promoting the arrival of the cruise ships to Texas.  I said okay, that's a lot of money, but I will see what I can do.  So I took the deal back to the Port Authority.

That was 1992.  When the Port did the final negotiations with Carnival, they requested $250,000 from the private sector to pay for a portion of their first year’s advertising budget.  So I went about raising the money. 

The Moody family, the Fertitta family, and the Park Board each contributed $50,000 each. Now we were $100,000 short, so I threw an additional $100,000 into the pot.  That did it.  We closed the deal with Carnival. 

I was excited.   I couldn't believe after all that work, Carnival had finally accepted the deal.  Let's do this promotion and try it out!  

Weren't they surprised!?  Yes, almighty, it was a success from Day One.

After a year or two, the statistics reported that 75 percent of the people were driving in, not flying.  These were brand new customers from that 300 mile radius I spoke of.  And that made all the difference in the world to them.  So that's why they expanded as fast as they could. 

And then the other companies, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Disney, they smelled the bait and they came too.

But Carnival was the first.  They got the ball rolling."

George and Maria at Galveston Mardi Gras
 

 


SUBCHAPTER 108
- TURNING THE TABLES ON HOUSTON

 

We now know that George Mitchell was right all along.  The success of the Texas cruise industry has been so overwhelming that the reluctance of the cruise industry to take a chance seems ridiculous.  Hindsight makes us all intelligent, doesn't it? 

The difference is that George Mitchell could see things ahead of time.  Maybe that explains why Mitchell became a billionaire and I simply write about it.  Hmm.

One thing that was amazing about George Mitchell was his ability to get people moving in the right direction.  The story of the Carnival executives who couldn't see the potential of the Texas cruise market was on example.  Mitchell often met a similar stubbornness with Galveston officials. Mitchell put up with a great deal of public negativity and obstinate government bureaucracy time and again.

Douglas Matthews, the former city manager, recalled how Mitchell fought the Galveston City Council and the Wharves Board, which governs the port authority, over his request to build a cruise ship terminal and a $750,000 cruise ship walkover in the late 1980s.

"Critics labeled it, 'The walkway to nowhere.'  Only Mr. Mitchell had the vision and persistence to proceed," Matthews said.

Indeed, building this terminal had been quite a gamble.  At the time, there was absolutely no cruise market in Texas.  No one could see it but Mitchell.  George Mitchell first began pursuing the cruise industry in 1989. His pursuit was practically single-handed. 

Since the pay-off did not come quickly, Mitchell had to listen to considerable skepticism for ten solid years.  Finally the big day arrived.  On September 30, 2000, the Carnival Cruise Lines Celebration made her inaugural voyage.

From the moment the first Carnival cruise ship appeared, the customers came flying out of the woodwork.  I saw it first-hand.  The idea of cruising appealed to a lot of people at my dance studio. "Rick, let's take a cruise!"

I was very skeptical, but decided to give it a try.  To my surprise, people signed up in droves.  In August 2001 I joined a group of 100 people from my dance studio to sail on the Celebration.  These people danced themselves silly.  I was impressed.  Dancing and cruising made a powerful combination.

I might add that dancing helped me meet my future wife Marla on that cruise.  We met on the dance the first night of the trip.  It was love at first sight.  Marla and I have never been apart since.  We definitely owe George Mitchell our appreciation for his vision and persistence. 

It is a measure of George Mitchell's greatness that he saw the cruise project through to the end.  Mitchell's cruise project was the third story I read where Mitchell was heavily criticized, but continued on in spite of the naysayers. 

No one thought the Galveston cruise angle was smart.  They said a few people from Houston would give it a try and then the whole thing would fizzle out.  One trip out of curiosity would diffuse the novelty and that would be the end of it. 

Marla and I aboard the Carnival Celebration in 2001
 

People are called visionaries because they not only see possibilities, they know how to get it done.  Furthermore, a visionary is someone who gets it done in the face of serious criticism.

Mitchell was a visionary with the determination to defy the critics on fracking.  He was a visionary in real estate with The Woodlands.  George Mitchell was a visionary in the cruise potential of Galveston.  Time and again, George Mitchell was the only man who could see things clearly. 

In hindsight, it makes complete sense.  Galveston was the closest port not just to Texas, but Oklahoma, Colorado, Louisiana, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico and so many other states.  In the space of just a few years, Galveston became the fourth busiest cruise port in America.  Texas was now the third busiest cruise departure point after Florida and California.  So much for the critics.

Now the entire Caribbean was at the fingertips of Texas.  Just think of all of those tourists flocking to Galveston.  Not only was the Galveston hotel industry back in business, Galveston was back on the world map.  Galveston began to flourish.   The city had finally regained its purpose.

Meanwhile, the Houston officials were flabbergasted.  Right before their eyes, George Mitchell had stolen the cruise industry that rightfully belonged to Houston's business leaders.  They couldn't believe Galveston's success.  Now they began to plot a way to counter-attack. 


Turnabout is fair play, yes? 
Taking a page straight out of the Jesse H. Jones playbook, George Mitchell had beaten Houston to the punch. 

As we recall, Jesse Jones was the man who devastated Galveston by building the Houston Ship Channel in the early 1900s.  George Mitchell accomplished a measure of revenge when he persuaded the city fathers to build a cruise ship terminal in the late 1980s. 

There is more to this story.  Once Houston saw the profits rolling in, the business people were fit to be tied.  They were used to dominating the entire sea industry in these parts.  The Gulf of Mexico was virtually Houston's private swimming pool. 

How dare Galveston horn in on their monopoly?

Taking note of the enormous boost to Galveston's economy, Houston decided to build a cruise terminal of its own next to the same Houston Ship Channel that had been tormenting Galveston for the past century.  Like a bully, Houston was bound and determined to steal this valuable cruise industry prize away from its weak sister. 

In 2008, at the cost of $81 million, the Bayport Cruise Terminal over in the ship channel opened to great fanfare.

If we build it, they will come...

Wrong.  Too late.  People preferred Galveston. 

As of 2014, that terminal was still empty.  It just sat there doing nothing.  Weeds began growing in the parking lot.

Meanwhile Galveston's cruise business just kept expanding. 

Seven cruise ships called Galveston home the last time I checked.

Thanks to George Mitchell, Galveston definitely got the last laugh on this story.  He turned the tables on Houston.

 


SUBCHAPTER 109
- TALE OF TWO CITIES

 

Once upon a time, Galveston was the greatest city in Texas.  In 1880, at a time when most of Texas was still the wild frontier country depicted in Western movies, Galveston was the largest city in the state.  Meanwhile Galveston was the jewel of the state.  Galveston became the first city to have electricity, telephone, gas, and trolley lines.  That all came to a terrible halt in 1900. 

George Mitchell, the man who restored
the Glory Days of Galveston
 

In 1900, the Great Storm demolished the greatest city in Texas. 

In 1920, Sam Maceo returned the affluence to Galveston.  But it didn't last.  In 1950, Galveston showed Sam Maceo the door. 

Economic ruin set in almost immediately.  By the 1970s, a sense of doom hung over the city.  Downtown was in decay with more buildings boarded up than open.  One thousand mansions built during the glory days of Galveston were falling apart from neglect. 

Once George Mitchell saw what had happened to his beloved city, he was determined to do something about it. Mitchell reasoned that with a little paint and lot of love, Galveston's historical buildings could be restored.  Mitchell brought back the trolley cars and resurrected Galveston into the charming Town that Time Forgot.  

In 2000, the Carnival Celebration departed the Port of Galveston carrying 2,000 passengers who had driven from all over Texas to participate.  This was a powerful moment.  Over a thirty year period, Galveston had risen to become the new tourist Mecca of Texas.

1900. 2000. 

It took ONE HUNDRED YEARS, but thanks to George Mitchell, Galveston was finally back on its feet.

Poor Houston.  Our lack of vision is so bad it is humiliating.  We want the Olympics to come to Houston only to learn our city is too hot and too boring for anyone to dream of visiting the place. 

Our leaders tell us how much tourism would benefit the city.  But they do nothing about it.  Houston lacks a single major tourist attraction.   When it comes to tourism, Houston is the most flat-footed city in the state.  Houston does not have a clue how to attract tourists.  San Antonio on one side and Galveston on the other steal all the tourists in Texas right out from under the Bayou City.

Houston is begging for a tourist attraction.  Meanwhile the Houston Astrodome just sits there idle.  The Astrodome would be perfect to house a tourist attraction.  All we need is someone willing to put something interesting in there to attract tourism to the city.  But that ain't happening, is it?? 

Get this... the Astrodome has sat empty for over 16 years and still no one can decide what to put in there. 

Personally, I think it is a disgrace.  It is ridiculous that no one in Houston has the imagination or the persistence to see an idea through.  Houston could really use someone like George Mitchell.  Instead we have people who just want to tear the place down like they did with Waterworld and Astroworld.  With that attitude, no wonder no one wants to visit Houston. 

However, don't feel too sorry for Houston.  As George Mitchell pointed out, Galveston has become a huge asset to Houston.  At this point, what is good for Galveston is typically good for Houston as well.  Every day the two cities grow closer together.

 


SUBCHAPTER 110
- THE MAN WITH THE MIDAS TOUCH

 

The list of George Mitchell's accomplishments never seems to end.  In 1985, George and Cynthia found the time to reintroduce Mardi Gras to Galveston.  How cool was that?

The Mitchells had long dreamed of restoring the Island's splendid Mardi Gras tradition which had disappeared during World War II.  However they weren't sure how to go about it.

At the time they were in the process of remodeling the elegant Tremont House Hotel in the historic Galveston Strand District.

George and Cynthia decided to schedule the revival of the citywide Mardi Gras celebration to coincide with the re-opening of the Tremont. 

The 1985 revival was spectacular.  The revival featured a mile-long Grand Night Parade saluting "The Age of Mythology."  A crowd of thousands came out to party.  The streets were jammed.  This had been a grand idea.  Galveston Mardi Gras was back to stay.

Located in The Woodlands, the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion is famous in the Houston area.  Many of the biggest names in the music industry have performed there.  

In 1982, civic leaders and members of the Houston Symphony approached George Mitchell with the idea to establish a summer home for the symphony up in The Woodlands.  The facility was envisioned as a place where both performing arts groups and contemporary entertainers could perform. 

Mitchell said he would be more than happy to help.  He donated the funds to make this outdoor amphitheater a reality.  While he was at it, Mitchell made sure to immortalize his beloved wife Cynthia by naming the arena after her.

Today the arena seats 20,000 people.  It has become the second-most heavily used amphitheater in the world.

George Mitchell had a lifetime passion for space and astronomy.  In fact, he once built his own telescope back in high school. 

His passion for astronomy set him up for his greatest letdown.  From what I gather, George Mitchell did not have many disappointments in his life, but there were a few.

Chief among his disappointments was the failure of the Texas Super Collider Particle Accelerator.  A particle accelerator is a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds and to contain them in well-defined beams.  The purpose is to unlock the secrets of the atom.  When completed, this ambitious project would have formed a giant circular tunnel around Waxahachie south of Dallas. 

However it was abandoned at the 20% completion point.  Had the Supercollider been finished, it would have boasted energy 20 times larger than any accelerator ever constructed. 

No doubt the Supercollider would have allowed the U.S. to retain dominance in high-energy physics.  Unfortunately, Congress officially killed the project in October 1993.

Mitchell was devastated.  This had been his baby.  It took him a long time to get over his disappointment. 

One can assume that, as a visionary, Mitchell understood the long-term benefits of this project far better than the average man.  But there was nothing he could do about it other than accept defeat... something he wasn't used to.

George Mitchell died in 2013.  Towards the end of his life, he had two passions.  One was to continue the renaissance of his beloved Galveston. 

The other was to explore the mysteries of the Universe.  Mitchell was often teased about his intense love of outer space.  His friends called him the 'Star-struck Billionaire'. 

In 2002, Mitchell endowed the Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy, an astrophysics lab designed to research the complex issues of the universe.

George Mitchell had originally met physicist Stephen Hawking, the world’s most famous scientist, during the failure of the Texas Supercollider project.  Hawking was impressed at the depth of Mitchell's interest and knowledge in his work. 

With his billions secure, Mitchell took delight in helping his friend Stephen Hawking answer questions about the cosmos:

Why is the universe expanding?  What happened during the Big Bang?  What are the fundamental laws of nature binding the universe together?

As part of Stephen Hawking's search for answers, Mitchell would bring the physicist to Texas on three occasions. 

Along the way, Mitchell and Hawking became fast friends. 

Upon George Mitchell's death, Hawking delivered a beautiful eulogy. 

Michael Mitchell with his father George at 2013 Mardi Gras

The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion

The George and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Physics Building
 on the Texas A&M campus

George Mitchell and Stephen Hawking at Texas A&M
 

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CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE:  MATRIARCH

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