George Millay, the creative founder of Sea World (San Diego, Ohio & Florida), Magic Mountain (Valencia, CA) and the first waterpark in the world, Wet ’n Wild in Orlando, was one of the most interesting, influential and fascinating people in the world of aquatics.
History has provided aquatic competition, recreation, water safety and entertainment with individuals who not only accomplished fantastic deeds during their careers, but were also great personalities affecting those who had the opportunity to watch them in action and perhaps even meet, know or even work with during their lives.
To name just a few, I suggest Capt. Matthew Webb and his first crossing of the English Channel and other swimming feats; Commodore Wilbur Longfellow, creating the Life Saving movement within the American Red Cross; Duke Kahanamoku, legendary swimmer and the father of modern day surfing and (on a personal note) Buck Dawson, founder of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale who just passed away, at age 87 a year ago April 5th.
Though the waterpark industry is relatively new, (Wet ’n Wild Orlando opened in 1977), George Millay’s contribution to its creation and subsequently six others (Arlington, TX, Las Vegas, Cancun, Sao Paulo, Salvador and Rio de Janeiro), began an entirely new concept in aquatic recreation and entertainment. It even spawned a new generation of lifeguard and water safety training.
Tim O’Brian’s book “The Wave Maker” is more than just a biography of George Millay, but also a creative telling of the history of Sea World, Magic Mountain and Wet ’n Wild. O’Brian not only had access to George personally (prior to Millay’s death in Feb. 2006 at age 76), but also provides extensive short stories, tales, quips and quotes by family members, former colleagues and even a few adversaries.
The book reveals George Millay as an incredibly creative, hard working, driven individual who was continually looking for the next goal in life to accomplish. He worked hard in life and appeared to play just as hard. He was a man who called things as he saw them even if his comments would seem ‘politically incorrect’ to those around him. When it came to those who worked for him, he was certainly a ‘my way or the highway’ type of guy.
George Millay, the businessman, was not only creative but also very good at hiring/firing, helping develop talent and seeking out those who were strongest in their talents to help him with his goals and projects. He made a lot of money…for himself, his partner investors, the stockholders. Millay was also very generous with his own money, taking care of those around him. There is the story of a male employee who he totally berates for not meeting the requisite short hair length and then giving the kid a $20 for a $2 haircut.
As a family man, Millay married a lovely woman and together they raised three sons and a daughter all of whom have gone on to successful adult lives. His eldest son, Pat, actually went into the family business and was very instrumental in the development of the four ‘south of the border’ Wet ’n Wilds.
As a survivor in life, George went through three major cancer operations between 1979-81, which left him extremely disfigured on the right side of his face (he lost his ear, an eye and all of the facial nerves leaving him unable to even smile). Other than slowing him down somewhat physically, this did nothing to dissuade him one bit as he continued to create, develop and dream of new ways to entertain an ever appreciative and growing public.
“Next to Walt Disney himself, George Millay will go down in history as one of the most creative people in the industry,” says Larry Cochran, former CEO of Palace Entertainment a leading amusement park company.