George Lewis, aka the “Water Man” donates and raffles his artwork to raise money for Rotary projects.
For George Lewis, painting was something to keep him busy during retirement.
In 2003, Lewis took an adult education class while living in Florence, Ore., then dabbled with oils in his free time before moving to Lakewood Ranch four years ago and joining the Rotary Club.
When he wasn’t experimenting with his new hobby, he was immersed in Rotary Club projects.
Lewis initially joined Rotary in Oregon in 2002, and in 2006 went on a humanitarian trip with his club to Guatemala. It was then that his interest in the Rotarian’s clean water initiatives was piqued. He began to work tirelessly not only for his own club but others around the country, helping to write grants and start programs with other clubs.
His vivacity in pursuing project funds also led to him becoming a motivational speaker for Rotary. He attended
conferences around the U.S. and developed a network of club and district contacts.
However, a continuing roadblock that Lewis experienced in getting clubs involved or committed to a project was money.
Then two years ago, Lewis was struck by an idea.
During his spare time, he had been developing his own personal painting style by using only a pallet knife, and no brushes, to create Impressionistic-style artwork. Although he had just the one lesson in Oregon, he watched painting shows on TV to hone his skills.
He posted a photo of one of his paintings on Facebook, a platform he knew would reach other Rotarians around the world. He posted that if someone would purchase that painting for $500, he would donate the money back to a water project.
“Eight minutes later, I sold it to a guy in Texas,” he said.
So he began offering his paintings for sale, and donating the money back to Rotary, or would donate them to clubs for a raffle.
During one of his speeches at a Rotary convention, he offered his time to anyone who would develop and coordinate a water project. He received more than one hundred business cards of other Rotarians who wanted his help.
After a year, only four clubs actually pursued a new project. Lewis, 80, said clubs dropped their clean water projects due to a lack of money.
So Lewis kept painting.
He's dialed back on his coordination efforts for water projects and has put more focus into raising money through his painting. He is auctioning off one of his paintings at the Suncoast Food and Wine Festival on Saturday.
Ron Myers, chairman of the Suncoast Food and Wine Festival and a fellow Rotary member, is an advocate of Rotary’s water projects. He has been involved in all 13 of the club’s water projects in Peru and he made contact with Lewis long before he moved to Lakewood Ranch.
“I connected with him through Facebook because he had started a year ahead of me to work on water,” Myers said. “He gave me contacts to other Rotarians who were interested in water projects.”
Myers said Lewis posts something every day on Facebook to promote his painting program or draw awareness to another Rotary project.
“He’s always looking for ways to promote water and sanitation,” Myers said. “He’s a great friend, a great Rotarian.”
Myers calls Lewis “the water man.” The Lakewood Ranch club has done about 25 projects in Central and South America, and “George has been involved with all of them in some manner,” even when he lived in Oregon, getting partners, raising money or coordinating clubs.
Lewis, a former minor league baseball player in the Boston Red Sox organization, said he has indirectly helped roughly 2 million people in 37 countries gain access to clean water since 2002.
“Once you start making a name for yourself, people start calling you,” Lewis said.