Captain John “Jays” Gray is best known around Fort Myers Beach for running marathons into his 80s, decorating coconuts on his property for the holidays and throwing St. Patrick’s Day parties. Patrick.
On September 28, Gray lost both of his ships on his Fort Myers Beach property and countless personal effects to Hurricane Ian.
But more than five months later, the 85-year-old US Marine is still emotional talking about the help he received cleaning and rebuilding his home from volunteers on the other side of the world.
A week after Hurricane Ian rocked his home and brought 10 feet of water into his Fort Myers Beach. property, Gray was very surprised to meet a group of volunteers from Israel who spent a week helping him clean his property. They are with Israaid and Rubicon, Israeli humanitarian aid groups that specialize in disaster response.
As well as cleaning dirt from his house and pulling down damaged walls, they helped him find a box of personal belongings that had washed up on the street, finding mementos such as old photos and St. Patrick’s Day decorations. Patrick. One of the decorations is a sign that says “Kiss me I’m Irish.”
“That’s probably the most unique thing that’s ever happened to me,” said Gray.
“That just touched my heart,” said Gray.
“The first thing we did was fly the American flag and the Marine flag,” he says. “They work from 7am to 5pm.”
He recalled one of the volunteers “Pulled tacks from carpet up stairs.”
Gray keeps in touch with the Israeli volunteers via email. They shared photos with him from Fort Myers Beach and back to Israel. “They are like brothers” he says.
The loss of his sailboat, motorboat, and many of his possessions took a toll on Gray. “We were beaten” he says. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
He lost old family photos and several documents although he was able to save some of his family’s documents, including military papers from the Civil War. He finds a wedding photo that was in a pile of rubble outside his house just before it was about to be removed.
The early days after Hurricane Ian were tough in Gray without power. “We lay on the floor,” he says.
Gray and his wife Charlotte lived in a house in Iona during Hurricane Ian which was also hit by flooding.
The road to recovery is a long one for Gray as it is for most of Fort Myers Beach.
He doesn’t have flood insurance. He didn’t expect to change his boat. Behind his treasure, the 27-foot boat that had washed ashore on his treasure was still stuck, waiting to be removed.
Gray said one of the toughest parts of recovering from Hurricane Ian was when he went for his morning jog and saw how few people there were on the island. He used to see lots of ordinary faces along the street he ran from, but now realized that some streets might only be occupied by a few houses. He usually has over 30 people for St. Patrick’s Day. Patrick but wasn’t expecting much this year. “No any body here,” he says.
Still, Gray is hard at work rebuilding his house and will be living on the island. He likes water too much.
“I have worked hard,” said Gray. “I go to bed with 10 jobs to do and wake up with 11 jobs to do. We will get there.”
What Gray missed the most from what Hurricane Ian lost was “non-replaceable item” like pictures of her kids and “things my mom made for Christmas,” he says.
“It hit me emotionally,” said Gray. “Some people lose it all.”