George Mitchell was born in Galveston on this day 101 years ago

For 12 years, we played tennis at the Galveston Racquet Club — doubles. His partner was Eugene Letsos. My partner was Louis Runge. He had one rule — don’t be late. Whoever was late had to supply the balls. And despite all the stops he made along the way checking projects, he was never late.

George was 13 years older than us and, toward the last few years, his knees were giving out. So, we decided no lobbing over George for an easy point. In a tight match, Louis sometimes forgot. I never did; well, maybe once. George had a favorite saying, “stick a fork in ‘em, they’re done.”

George graduated from Ball High School in 1935, but worked a year and then enrolled at Texas A&M University in 1936. To stay in school, he sold candy and stationery, took in laundry and waited tables. He told me his dad would hit up Sam Maceo for $100 now and then to help him out. He graduated first in his class in 1940 with a degree in petroleum engineering, and he was captain of the tennis team.

He so loved A&M he became its largest donor — $100 million. Two physics buildings are named after him. The tennis center bears his name. He would be so proud to know Texas A&M University is now the largest university in Texas and third largest in the country. And, it still has a touch of family, God and country.

And on top of that, the Mitchell Foundation has given more than $400 million to worthy causes the world over. On Dec. 7, 2010, he joined the Giving Pledge sponsored by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, making public his and Cynthia’s long-held private intent that the majority of their wealth would be donated to charitable causes. His generosity had no bounds — he even once gave me a horse.

What he accomplished in one lifetime is incredible. He decided to build a city. The Woodlands is an award-winning city of trees, parks, trails, lakes, golf courses, shopping centers, business parks and more than 100,000 people.

His footprints are all over Galveston Island. Hotel Galvez, The Tremont House, numerous restorations on The Strand, San Luis, Pirates Beach, Texas A&M University at Galveston, Mardi Gras, and on and on.

But his greatest gift to our country was his development of fracking. According to the Economist, few men have had such a worldwide impact. It changed the politics of American dependence on foreign oil.

I hope Mayor Jim Yarbrough and the city council will erect a statue of Mitchell with the inscription “Father of Galveston,” so future generations will know of his greatness.

The last time I saw George, I told him I was moving — that I may not see him again — but I wanted him to know I thought he was one of the finest men I’d ever known. In typical George fashion, he said, “Well, I don’t know about that” and changed the subject.

And to think we just called him George. And he never even once had to supply the balls.

Editor’s note: George P. Mitchell died July 26, 2013.

Don Farmer Sr. is a former Galveston resident and now lives in Horseshoe Bay, Texas.


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(17) comments

John Nilsson

Agreed. He was a great man who did so much for Galveston.

Kelly Naschke

Great idea. Unfortunately many Galvestonians and even more transplants have no idea what he has done for Galveston. It amazes me that so many of our native Galvestonians have contributed so much to the island.

Allison Buchtien

"But his greatest gift to our country was his development of fracking." Wow! Perhaps you should ask some of the people who live where fracking occurs. Not sure if they'd agree. Polluted water systems and man made earthquakes.

Kelly Naschke

Always got to be haters.

Michael Byrd


David Hardee


Jack Cross

Agree, he restored so many building and was responsible for bringing people to Galveston. Louis Runge and Eugene Letsos, I went to school with you guys, Runge old Galveston Great Family. I use to sneak out and fish on the pier at Farmers Point as a kid. Mr Farmer knew we were out there and never said a thing. Farmers are good people.

Jean Ann Glass

George Mitchell was an amazing man. Can’t think of him without being grateful for all he did for UTMB. Among other things, he funded Alzheimer’s research and grappled with it personally when his wife battled the disease in the last years of her life. He was kind, generous and an astute businessman. Galveston is blessed to have had him among us.

Bailey Jones

I agree. His benevolence is evident all over the island. And I know just the spot for his statue - the new green space at 26th and Sealy, next to city hall.

Maris Helfrich

AMEN! Very good article and so true!

Seth Alford

I could not agree more. Thank you for bringing this to light.

Ron Binkley

And let that statue have Cynthia standing by his side!

Ron Shelby

For what he did for the Island alone, I'd say yes.

Emile Pope

Why should taxpayers have to pay for a statue for a millionaire? I’m sure that his heirs can afford a statue. The causeway shouldn’t have been named after him either...

Carlos Ponce

The causeway is "The George & Cynthia Mitchell Memorial Causeway". If you don't like the name, don't use it. Just call it "The Causeway". Most don't know the official name of it anyway.

Ron Binkley

Don't worry about it Emile. Nobody will even name a dead end street after you!

Carlos Ponce

If there's ever something named after Emile Pope it will be named after Emile Pope Sr. - star Central High School athlete in the early 1950s and GPD officer in the 1960s.

Jr.? Nothing of note.

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