Flo and Ray Van de Water

By Irene Leidner

Gilbert Raymond Van de Water
10/19/1920 to 10/19/2006

No one epitomized the goals, aspirations, and dedication to preserving the natural world more than Ray Van de Water. A native Californian, born in Monrovia, California, he traded Berkeley academia after one year for the training that called to him – the Merchant Marine Academy. As World War II began, he moved rapidly through the ranks, so that by the end he was a Captain with American President Lines, transporting troops and materials. He celebrated the end of the war in 1945 by marrying Florence Culbertson, and from then on they were inseparable. Ray and Flo raised their four children with a keen appreciation of the wilderness and outdoors, and their annual family summertime camping trips with children and grandchildren were a cherished tradition for everyone in the family. This was not a man, however, to confine his loves and interests to a singular purpose; his life’s history reflects a man ready to embrace life and all its possibilities.

Soon after the war, Ray shifted from ship captain to working in the insurance department of his company. When he retired in 1982, he and Flo made the decision to move from Danville to their vacation home in Gualala, their own personal Shangri-la. There they became heavily involved in community activities; both served as officers and longtime board members of the California Native Plant Society and contributed regularly to the CNPS newsletter. Ray also served as a member of the Gualala River Watershed Council, which named Van De Water Creek in his honor a few years ago in appreciation of his services. Flo and Ray were both avid hikers, active in the Thursday Ramblers and Hikes for Health groups well past their 80th birthdays. Anyone who has visited their home in Gualala can appreciate the care with which it was designed and built, to emphasize the beauty of its spectacular views while retaining an unobtrusive footprint on the land. Many times this home was a welcome resource for local nonprofit organizations that needed a host family for a visiting artist, musician or speaker.

Ray’s love for the uniqueness of this area and his concern for retaining that beauty for future generations led him to help found the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy in 1992. His knowledge and love of the environment, combined with his business experience, was well suited to taking an active role in the newly formed RCLC. He successfully worked with the Coastal Commission, the Coastal Conservancy, and local landowners to dedicate scenic land for preservation and public access. This past March, Ray was awarded the Local Environmentalist Award posthumously by the Mendocino Coast Environmental Partnership, a consortium of the Mendocino Land Trust, the California Native Plant Society, the Mendocino Coast Audubon Society, and the Mendocino Parks Association. At the opening dedication ceremony of the Bonham Trail leading to Cooks Beach later this year, Ray’s contributions to RCLC will be commemorated by a public bench on the overlook to the beach.

Ray not only talked the talk, he walked the walk – with intelligence, honor, and integrity. He is sorely missed.

“He was here but a relatively short time,
But shall remain here forever”