Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink — unless you live in Nocatee’s Twenty Mile neighborhood and you spot resident George Ray coming your way.
The 84-year-old “Water Guy” has made it his personal mission to keep his community hydrated, volunteering his time to canvas the streets and parks for possible thirsty residents on hot summer days, handing them free bottles of water. His dedication to the cause has since made him a local celebrity of sorts in the densely populated community, earning him more than a few “Hey, Ray!” greetings from neighbors he knows he met but can’t quite remember their names.
“I would say there’s 2,000 people that know me by name,” Ray said as modestly as possible.
As it turns out, being a very pleasant person does well to earn you social status as not many people would argue that Ray is the most popular person in his community. To date, Ray guesses that in the three years he has been giving out water, he has probably served more than 4,000 bottles to rehydrated residents.
Before he became the “Water Guy,” Ray was a devoted and loving husbande, as well as his wife’s primary caregiver.
“She was in very bad shape. When she was 39 years old the doctors gave her no chance to live,” Raid said. “She lasted 37 more years.”
Before she died, Ray tended to her, making sure she was comfortable and in as little pain as possible. For short periods of time he would sell seashells at the local farmers market, but he would always make sure to go straight home and be by her side. His wife died eight years ago in July.
When he moved to Twenty Mile in 2015, he was the very first resident. He was also lonely and looking to find something to fill the long days that used to be devoted to his wife. So, he had a thought.
“I'll bet you there’s a lot of people here that are walking that I’ve never seen before and would probably enjoy water,” he said.
And so, for the next four years he found himself dedicating his time to his own small humanitarian niche, one based on the simplicity of providing the most basic need to basically whoever crossed his path.
It is a small philanthropic endeavor made huge by the sheer devotion he pays to it.
Ray said he doesn’t give out water for the fame, or even for a passion fighting against cottonmouth. He said he just likes to see the look on someone’s face when he hands them something they need. The water is just a means to that end.
“There was just that reaction from the first group of people that I gave it to,” he said. “They were so happy — so happy to get (the water) that I just figured this is a good thing to do.”
One of those previously parched individuals happened to be Gate Hospitality’s Vice President of Marketing and Membership, Sarah Small. Small happened to be in the community exploring with her family one sunny day. While playing in one of the Nocatee parks, Ray spotted the small group of possible thirsties and beelined toward her direction. She was so touched by the generosity and community-mindedness of Ray, she decided to give him a hand to keep helping.
On May 21, a Gate Hospitality truck plodded down Twenty Mile.
In it was 8,000 bottles of water, enough to keep George “the Water Guy” Ray busy distributing for the next two years. Pulling up to his house with pallet after pallet of bottled water, Ray couldn’t believe how much water they were giving him. Floor to ceiling, water lined his garage, their plastic sides crinkling softly under their own weight as they were loaded up.
For someone who regularly spends his time handing out charitable water bottles, however, Ray was floored anyone would turn around and hand him one.
“I guess I don’t need to go to Costco for a while,” he said.