A SIMPLE ACT OF KINDNESS
Written by Rick Archer
2015, Richard Archer
Another side to the
story of George Mitchell was his dedication to Maria, his kid
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
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.
stabilized for the children when their father's brother agreed to
take George. Maria went to a different home. Under pressure,
Aunt Virginia, Mike Mitchell's sister, agreed to take care of the
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.)
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
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.
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
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
whined over their total inability to get the
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.
the meantime, Mitchell caught one fish after
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
perfect metaphor for his
Only George Mitchell could
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
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
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
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
came the day when Maria was ready for college as
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
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
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.
Through MY eyes
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
River Oaks back in the Sixties.
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
George Mitchell and Stephen Hawking were
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
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
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
I am convinced he was a pretty good father
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
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.
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.
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.
did, we did together... Family, philanthropy, rebuilding
Galveston. Cynthia was the love of my life."
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.
plan called for preserving trees, protecting the environment,
minimizing flooding and creating ways to blend homes and forest
of how to integrate modern technology with environmental responsibility
was light years ahead of its time.
called The Woodlands the City of the Tomorrow and the
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.
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.
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.
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.
trips originated from the same Galveston cruise terminal that
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
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.
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
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.
from a 2013 George Mitchell interview tells the story.
This picture was taken an hour after the
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
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
'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
"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
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."
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
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!"
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
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 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
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
George and Maria at Galveston Mardi
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?
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.
it, 'The walkway to nowhere.' Only Mr. Mitchell
had the vision and persistence to proceed," Matthews said.
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
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,
Carnival Cruise Lines Celebration made
her inaugural voyage.
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!"
very skeptical, but decided to give it a try.
To my surprise, people signed up in droves. In
I joined a group of 100 people
from my dance studio to sail
These people danced
themselves silly. I was impressed.
Dancing and cruising made a powerful combination.
add that dancing
helped me meet
my future wife Marla
that cruise. We met on the dance the first
night of the trip. It was love at first sight.
have never been apart since. We definitely owe
George Mitchell our appreciation for his vision and
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.
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.
I aboard the Carnival Celebration in 2001
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.
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.
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
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.
Houston officials were flabbergasted. Right before
George Mitchell had stolen the cruise
industry that rightfully belonged to Houston's business
They couldn't believe Galveston's
success. Now they began to plot a way to
Turnabout is fair play, yes?
Taking a page
straight out of the Jesse H. Jones playbook, George Mitchell
had beaten Houston to
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
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
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
we build it, they will
Too late. People preferred Galveston.
of 2014, that terminal was still empty. It just sat
there doing nothing. Weeds began growing in the
Galveston's cruise business just kept expanding.
Seven cruise ships called Galveston home the last time I
Thanks to George
Mitchell, Galveston definitely got the last laugh on this
story. He turned the tables on Houston.
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
mansions built during the glory days of Galveston were falling apart
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.
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.
ONE HUNDRED YEARS, but thanks to George Mitchell, Galveston was
finally back on its feet.
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
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.
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
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.
feel too sorry for Houston. As George Mitchell pointed
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
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.
Cynthia decided to schedule the revival of the citywide
Mardi Gras celebration to coincide with the re-opening of
The 1985 revival
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,
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
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
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
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
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
Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy,
an astrophysics lab designed to research the complex issues
of the universe.
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.
billions secure, Mitchell
took delight in
helping his friend Stephen Hawking answer questions about the cosmos:
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
Along the way, Mitchell and Hawking became fast
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