Water School scholarship honors conservation advocate’s passion

4 – minute read

“Water is life.” That’s how the late Charles Dauray boiled down the importance of water conservation, according to longtime colleague and friend Peg Phillips. But it takes more than three simple words to capture the depth of Dauray’s involvement and impact in South Florida when it comes to water.


Dauray served as South Florida Water Management District governing board vice chair from 2007 to 2011 — when the state accelerated restoration plans for the Everglades and the Kissimmee River, a waterway he particularly cherished. Dauray also advocated and lobbied for long-term efforts to improve water quality and flood control around Lake Okeechobee and to restore Lake Trafford for the public’s benefit. Dauray had many interests and causes, but water was a primary concern.

FGCU donor and staff
Peg Phillips, left, and Charles Dauray with Ricky Pires, director of Wings of Hope, in the Panther Posse room at FGCU.

“He had influence in so many different areas, but his passion was always water,” Phillips said. “He used to say his generation, the generation before his and the generation after his, did not grow up with a water conservation ethic. That’s why the next generation has to be educated, to try to correct some of the mistakes that have been made.”

The newly established Charles Dauray Water School Scholarship will help achieve that mission. Supporting graduate students in The Water School at Florida Gulf Coast University will empower future scientists and scholars to research and solve critical water issues and educate the next generation.


“I hope they will be inspired by what my brother did all of his life,” said Mary Lou Dauray.


She and her husband, Alan Davis, made a $1.5 million gift through the Davis/Dauray Fund to establish the scholarship. “When we thought about ways to honor Charles, the water story was the most important — and you have the perfect university for that. He loved the school and talked a lot about it. This can only help to make it bigger and bolder.”


Their desire to enhance educational opportunities through philanthropy aligns with long-term plans to grow The Water School.


“We are so grateful to Charles Dauray’s sister and brother-in-law for honoring him in this way,” said Kitty Green, executive director of the FGCU Foundation. “By assisting deserving graduate students with the cost of their education, the scholarship will also help us grow the graduate program at The Water School, which is an important focus for the university.”

The Water School at FGCU
The Water School is based in Academic Building 9. Photo: James Greco.

The scholarship formally connects Dauray’s name with The Water School, but his involvement with FGCU runs deeper. As the College of Life Foundation chair and CEO for over two decades, he supported FGCU’s Wings of Hope program, educating youngsters about water conservation and the endangered Florida panther. The foundation’s gift of much sought-after artifacts from a pioneer colony that settled in Estero in 1894 created “The Koreshan Unity Collection” in the University Archives and Special Collections.


Dauray, who died in 2021 at 78, was deeply involved in preserving history far beyond the Koreshans. He led the Collier County Historical Society as chair for 18 years and helped found the Southwest Florida Holocaust Museum and Education Center. He funded the rescue, relocation and restoration of two historic buildings for the Estero Historical Society, of which he was a longtime board member.


His lifelong fascination with history and archaeology was rooted in his youth in Charlestown, Rhode Island, and transplanted when he moved to Naples in 1970.


“He was a scavenger,” Mary Lou Dauray recalled. “He would go into the potato fields and come back with loads of arrowheads. He was always interested in looking for relics and learning the history of the native cultures that lived there. That was formative for him.”


A longtime Izaak Walton League conservation group member, Dauray could instantly identify flora and fauna as he led tours of the Kissimmee River to show how the restoration was working, Phillips said. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Providence College, but his curiosity and knowledge spanned disciplines.


“Charles knew the name of everything – the native vegetation, the fish, the birds. As he pointed them out, he said, ‘This is why we’re doing this,’” Phillips said. “We toured sections that were restored and compared them to sections that were still not restored. It was amazing to see the difference.”


Much of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan is still to be realized. The Charles Dauray Water School Scholarship could yet play a part in enabling FGCU graduates to continue the work Dauray so valued and see the difference in their lifetime.

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