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.