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In Memoriam: George Mitchell 1919 – 2013

Mr. George P. Mitchell, founder of HARC, passed away on Friday July 26, 2013. He was 94.

Mr. Mitchell spent a large part of his life thinking about big challenges at scales that most of us seldom consider. He used his philanthropy and powers of persuasion to put the US and the world on a more sustainable path in the face of an uncertain future.

Mr. Mitchell was a complex individual. He founded a very successful energy exploration and production company, Mitchell Energy and Developement Corp., through which he developed and demonstrated the effectiveness of the technology known now as hydraulic fracturing. Mr. Mitchell developed many real estate projects; premier among these is The Woodlands, which has won many awards. In The Woodlands, Mr. Mitchell named a street Research Forest Drive in recognition of his goal to locate many high tech companies in this new community. On that street he created a campus for another creation, HARC (the Houston Advanced Research Center).

Mr. Mitchell was a visionary with several favorite subjects. He had an abiding interest in physics and had a significant impact through his philanthropy on the Physics department at his alma mater, Texas A&M University. Mr. Mitchell had a fundamental faith in human ingenuity and the value of new technology. The original vision for HARC was as a consortium of Texas’ four large research universities collaborating on major technology development. Only someone with the strength of character of George Mitchell could bring the Presidents of the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, the University of Houston and Rice University together on the Board of a new non profit. HARC hosted pioneering projects on magnets for the Superconducting Super Collider, supercomputing, application of lasers to remote sensing, and many other areas. Mr. Mitchell served on the HARC Board from 1982 until 2012 when he was named Chairman Emeritus.

Prior to the founding of HARC in 1982, Mr. Mitchell discovered another abiding interest in the question of whether humanity could find solutions for sustainable development. He engaged in the international debate about limits to growth of human society and our economy imposed by natural systems. One of the ways he engaged in this dialog was through the Center for Global Studies, a think tank he founded focused on sustainable development. Another form of his engagement was the Woodlands Conference Series with themes on sustainability and the George and Cynthia Mitchell Prize for outstanding ideas and efforts in sustainability.

In 1985, CGS joined HARC and in 2001 HARC adopted the mission of sustainable development, balancing economic, social and environmental well being. In 2002 Mr. Mitchell endowed a sustainability science program at the National Academy of Sciences. In 2005 he created the Endowment for Regional Sustainability Science, which will support HARC’s efforts to fulfill his vision. HARC is proud to be part of his legacy on this fundamental challenge to humankind.

George P. Mitchell was a pragmatic yet imaginative thinker, a rare breed. He had concrete impacts on this region, this state, this country and the world. He was a strong believer in the power of science and technology, so he endowed science-based organizations to pursue the challenge. In the field of sustainability, his legacy is huge and unique. His favorite challenge to the people at HARC was, “If you can’t figure out how to make the world work with 6 billion people, how are you going to make it work with 9 billion people?” Without the vision of George Mitchell to guide us it will be much more difficult to meet this challenge, but we will always endeavor to follow his lead.

For more information about the extraordinary life of George P. Mitchell, please visit the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation.