George Millay was a tough and proud Irishman who believed in himself - who never thought of giving up. He had in his arsenal a tremendous sense of creativity, a strong work ethic, and an unshakable belief that his ambitious projects would indeed reach their successful completion.
Following a successful early career as a restaurateur, the innovative and irascible Millay went to San Diego and proceeded to create a new genre of marine life park, complete with live shows, theming, lush landscaping, unique architecture, and a wide variety of marine animals. SeaWorld opened in 1964, and two years later, he introduced the first Shamu, the first killer whale to live and flourish in captivity, to the public. Under Millay's direction, SeaWorld of Ohio, and SeaWorld Orlando opened in 1970 and 1973 respectively.
In 1971, he was the creative force behind the development of Magic Mountain theme park in Valencia, Calif., now Six Flags Magic Mountain.
But Millay wasn't content to stop there. After resigning from SeaWorld in 1974 over a dispute with his board of directors, he spent three years developing an entirely new genre of park. In 1977, he opened the gates of Wet 'n Wild in Orlando, Fla., the world's first waterpark.
By the time he sold the Wet'n Wild waterparks in 1998, he had directed the creation of seven Wet 'n Wild parks, in Brazil, Mexico, and the United States. Today, more than 10 million people are entertained annually in parks that he conceived.
Tim O'Brien, author of The Wave Maker, Millay's official biography, wrote that Millay was "a man who turned water into gold - a modern-day Poseidon with the creativity, stamina and smarts to conceive recreational opportunities centered on the sea and oceans." O'Brien notes: "In most people's lives, they are lucky to have one great idea. George was blessed with one great idea after another, most of which panned out and became very successful."
In 1994, Millay was inducted into the International Assn. of Amusement Parks & Attractions Hall of Fame, and in 2004, the World Waterpark Assn. recognized his contributions by honoring him with a "Lifetime Achievement Award," the first ever given by the association. At that time, WWA also presented Millay with an official proclamation naming him the official "Father of the Waterpark."
While recognizing that he had accomplished a great deal through the years, Millay said he always had his Irish luck on his side. "Yes, I do see myself as a pioneer, but the feeling is mixed. I see a lot of pioneers as losers. Poor creative wretches who had great ideas but fate and good common sense weren't with them. I have been very lucky," he claims within the pages of The Wave Maker.
Jan Schultz, a retired SeaWorld executive says that "George was a creative, brilliant guy. You don't have to go too far down the list from Walt Disney to get to George Millay. Sure, you can throw P.T. Barnum in there and you can throw Henry Ford in, but George will always be among the top five list of the most brilliant, creative minds of all times."
Born in San Diego on July 4, 1929, Millay grew up in Ocean Beach, Calif., San Francisco and Hawaii. As a young boy in Pearl Harbor, he witnessed the bombs falling on Hickam Field. Too young to fight in the war, Millay enlisted in 1947 and spent 3 years in the Navy. After graduation from UCLA and working for a short time as a stockbroker, Millay was the creative force behind The Reef, an Hawaiian-themed restaurant in Long Beach, Calif.
Millay is survived by his wife, Anne; daughter Chrislyn Brandt; three sons, Patrick, Garrick and Gavin; a brother, Patrick; and seven grandchildren.
A Rosary will be said for Millay at 6:30 p.m. at the Pacific Beach Mortuary, 4710 Cass Street, San Diego on Thursday, February 9. The Funeral Mass will be Friday, February 10, at 11 a.m. at Saint Agnes Catholic Church in San Diego. Grave site services to immediately follow the Mass.
The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the following charity: St. Michael's School Building Fund, 15546 Pomerado Road Poway, CA 92064. Please mark "In Memory of George Millay."
George Millay photo available on request. For photo, contact Lauren Schneider, YPB&R Public Relations, (407) 838-1802, Lauren_Schneider@ypbr.com.