PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The man known as “The Fish Doctor” picked up his passion from family ties to guppies and tropical fish, but vandals came close to provoking him to give it all up after decades of dedication.
George Goulart ran Aqua Life for about 30 years with the love of his life, Irene.
But it starts with “a few fish” in his childhood home.
“At 12,” he recalled. “I had 26 aquariums in my mother’s kitchen.”
The hobby became Aqua Life and that grew into an accompanying foundation dedicated to promoting a captive breeding program of rare and endangered fish.
“My wife and I were getting ready to travel,” Goulart said. “Because we buy fish from all over the world, we’ve been invited to Dubai, Southeast Asia, Maylasia.”
All the species they could get to, stocked, protected and admired in Providence.
“These big guys are Central America,” he said, pointing to a tank near the front of the store, right behind the colorful mural.
It was originally painted by a Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) student and another artist in 2003, and went unblemished until last year.
Then, a number of doses of graffiti covered sections of the fish-filled display, and the window right in front of those “big guys from Central America.”
“My wife saw it the first time, and she cried,” Goulart said through a few of his own tears. “And they know who it is. It’s kids. They’re under age.”
The tagging came at the worst of times.
Irene was sick, and George would lose her to an illness after the vandals made their mark.
“I was all done,” he said.
Still, recently graduated artist Ashley Keene saw the vandalism and had to help.
“He, didn’t even want to bother,” Keene said.
But she wouldn’t give up.
“For two weeks she kept coming by,” Goulart said, who kept saying no. “I was all ready to paint everything gray and rent out the building and close the business.”
He finally gave in. Ashley went to work.
As her strokes covered the spray paint, George remembered why he and Irene spent decades trying to save what they loved.
“My wife is always here,” he said. “The hardest thing for me is night time. But I know she’s still here and I know she’d still want me to keep going.”
And should the vandals return, Keene is also unwilling to give up.
“If somebody was mean enough to do this again it would make me mad but at least I know I could fix it up again,” Keene said.Email Walt at firstname.lastname@example.org with your story ideas and follow us on Twitter: @StreetStories12 and @wbuteau.