HOUSTON—Houston iconic figure, philanthropist and lover of arts, Cynthia Woods Mitchell, died early Sunday after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. She was surrounded by friends and family when she peacefully passed away.
Cynthia Woods Mitchell, with her characteristic gracious reserve, seemed an unlikely champion of artistic and humanitarian causes. Yet, she leaves an abundant and empowering legacy from her lifelong devotion to personal and charitable interests.
Born one of twin identical girls on September 24, 1922 in New York City, Cynthia was raised by a single mother and extended family during the Great Depression, and came to Houston with her sister in 1939 to study literature, art and psychology at the University of Houston.
On Thanksgiving, 1941, while traveling by train from College Station to Houston, she met Lieutenant George Mitchell. At the height of World War II, Captain George Mitchell and Cynthia Woods were married by an Army chaplain in a double wedding with her twin sister and brother-in-law on Halloween in 1943. Their marriage and partnership spanned six decades, joyfully filled by 10 children, 23 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.
The Mitchell partnership was equally as prolific outside the home, developing major real estate and oil and gas holdings; creating a visionary new town, The Woodlands, and its premier outdoor performance arts venue, the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion; and preserving and revitalizing their beloved Galveston Island.
In 2002, Cynthia was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and on December 27, she died at home, surrounded by family. She was 87 years old. Cynthia met her diagnosis with optimism and dignity, retaining a zest for life and quick sense of humor, even as the disease progressed.
George poured resources and attention into Alzheimer’s research, funding Dr. Claudio A. Soto’s contributions at the George and Cynthia Mitchell Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases at The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and the George P. and Cynthia Mitchell Center for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Brain Disorders at The University of Texas Health Science Center, and Dr. Rachelle S. Doody’s work at Baylor College of Medicine.
To honor Cynthia’s often-stated wish to benefit her alma mater and foster her love of creativity, the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts was born. Acting as a center for artistic collaboration, the Mitchell Center forms an alliance among five units at the University of Houston to cultivate interdisciplinary relationships in the performing, visual, and literary arts.
For those who knew her best, Cynthia will be remembered for her intelligence and wit; benevolence and social equality; and devotion to all that she loved.
A memorial service will be held in her honor on January 4, 2010 at 2 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church in Galveston, Texas followed by a reception at the Tremont House.