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Ray Pittman's passion is at bottom of river
Going deep with black water diver
Ray Pittman
Ray Pittman is a former Bryan County manager. - photo by File photo

One of Ray Pittman’s favorite places is at the bottom of the Ogeechee River.

Pittman is a certified scuba diver who loves nothing better than to troll the bottom of the Ogeechee, the Intracoastal Waterway and other black water sites looking for prehistoric fossils.

The longtime Richmond Hill resident is a partner in Pittman Engineering, a local company, and is active in many local organizations, including the Rotary Club of Richmond Hill and its Interact Club.

The civil engineer is married to Connie, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Fort Stewart. They have three children, Cheryl, Alex and Chris. They met while they were students in high school and were married in 1976.

It took quite some time for the Pittmans to arrive in South Georgia, which they did in 1993. He followed his wife to different job opportunities across the country before her job brought them to Fort Stewart.

"We picked Bryan County because of the excellent school system," Pittman said.

Pittman has an engineering degree and found work with Thomas & Hutton Engineers, where he worked for many years before starting his own company.

Pittman, an Army veteran who served with the 101st Airborne Division, hails from South Carolina, but also spent time as a youth in North Carolina. He has lived all over the country, including Connecticut and Colorado, but considers South Bryan County and its endless scuba diving opportunities home.

Considering that Pittman likes anything to do with the outdoors, particularly being on the water, it’s no surprise that his first vocational desire was to be an oceanographer.

"The biggest problem with that was that I got horrible motion sickness. So I knew it was going to be a bad career choice. Plus the job I was going for didn’t pay very well. I needed something to sustain a family because I was married with children.

"So I switched to civil engineering," he said with a smile on his face.

"I was taking engineering classes at the University of Colorado, just outside of Denver. I also took a skiing class and went skiing every weekend with my son on my back. We both loved it," he said.

Pittman ultimately got his civil engineering degree from North Carolina State University.

"Although it has my name on the business – Pittman Engineering – I have a full partner, Jason Bryant and we have five employees. Our business focuses on planning, design, engineering issues and construction monitoring. We’re a full service engineering company. We started the business in February 2015. I picked civil engineering because it helps people by doing water, sewer and utilitarian sort of work," he said.

Pittman said that since he’s been in Richmond Hill, things are different but still similar to when he moved here.

"In terms of development, it has really changed. But in terms of the people, it’s still very much the same," he said. "We had good neighbors when we lived near Fort McAllister and still have great neighbors. People here have always been very friendly. That hasn’t changed at all. The people make it a great place to live.

"We love that area and we can see the water out of every window of our house."

Pittman said he would like to work another five years before deciding whether to retire or seek an alternate vocation. His goal, if and when he retires, is to "travel and have fun."

"I might continue to dabble in engineering or I might even teach."

It would also leave Pittman more time to pursue his main passion.

"I love to scuba dive as much as I can to look for fossils. I dive sometimes with Bill Eberlein on the weekends, looking for shark teeth and other fossils. I was just looking at my dive record for the year. So far, I’ve made somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 dives. I’ll definitely dive more when I retire.

"I find it very calming and relaxing."

Pittman said some of the hazards of diving in black water, or water with very low visibility, is bumping into things as you troll the bottom for fossils or other finds.

"It can be a little freaky. I never really get used to diving in zero or low visibility," he said.

"You can hear really well at the bottom. Sometimes you get bumped. You can hear the snapping turtles eating the barnacles off the pilings. You’re laying flat on the bottom and sometimes you grab things. It might be a flounder or a sting ray. It might be right in front of your face, so it just starts flapping right in front of your face. Before you know it, it really scares you.

"Having a sting ray swim up to you can be pretty terrifying," he continued. "You just grab your thoughts and try not to panic. I wear a full suit and helmet, a hood. Everything is protected, so it’s unlikely that anything could really happen."

Pittman did say, however, that one of his most frightening experiences was having a breathing malfunction while he was at the bottom during a black water dive.

"When you’re down on the bottom and all of a sudden you don’t have any air. It can be frightening. But that doesn’t happen very often. You know your equipment and you check it before the dive to ensure everything is functioning properly. If you have a problem, the first thing you do is drop the weight belt and you start to rise to the surface. At that time, we were diving at 30-50 feet so it doesn’t take long to surface. And at that depth, decompression is not a problem."

Even with all the added dangers and uncertainties, Pittman prefers diving in black water, rather than the clear waters of the Caribbean.

One fascination for Pittman, who started diving long before he moved to Bryan County, is never knowing what he will turn up in terms of fossils. He says he dives in areas known to have fossil beds, although there are no guarantees and, in some cases, it’s like searching for a needle in a haystack.

"Sometimes you search and search until you find an area known for fossils. Hopefully you’ll find some. Sometimes you spot dive looking for fossils. We did that one time for a weekend and only found one area with fossils. I’ve had many dives where I come up empty."

Pittman said one of his more unusual finds has been rhinoceros teeth.

"We have found camel teeth, crocodile teeth and rhinoceros teeth, locally. You just never know. You might find woolly mammoth teeth or mastodon tusks. Sometimes it’s tough to identify what kind of teeth or bones they are. You talk to an expert."

In addition to diving, Pittman likes boating and kayaking, and he is an avid hiker, as well. Anything, he said, to keep him outdoors and active.

Pittman also stays active in local clubs and charitable organizations.

He is a longtime Rotarian and active in the local Interact Club, which introduces youth to the benefits of being a Rotarian and placing service before self. He and others recently took a group of Interact students to Ossabaw Island to participate in a beach clean-up. He has also been associated with the local United Way program for many years.

Pittman is active in local politics and is involved with letting people know the benefits of renewing the special purpose local options sales tax in next month’s election and – looking a little further down the road – at the benefits of a transportation SPLOST, or T-SPLOST.

With family coming first, and scuba and other outdoor activities remaining a passion, Pittman leads a pretty contented life.

He said one of the biggest influences in his life in all regards was his grandmother, Martha Pittman, known to him and others as simply Grandma Pittman.

"She was quiet; very, very quiet. She was always supportive. She taught me to be kind and notice people. That’s what she taught me. She passed away in 1984 and I miss her every day.

"I’m pretty lucky and contented. I’m pretty satisfied with my life."

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