Doc Hendley


Biker. Bartender. Tattooed. “Rough around the edges.” It’s hard to imagine how the same man can also be called a humanitarian, philanthropist, NGO founder, and hero. That exactly what makes Dickson Beattie "Doc" Hendley extraordinary. He doesn’t have an illustrious educational background. A C-student is how he’d describe himself - an average guy who happens to care so much for others that he literally risked his life to get results. He founded “Wine to Water” after a stint in Darfur at the height of the genocide. His 501 (c)(3) non-profit aid organization has helped thousands of people in 13 different countries. Yes, he’s a CNN Hero.

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Why Doc Hendley is Extraordinary

Doc Hendley is not your typical do-gooder. He looks more like a bartender and a biker. Truth is, he is a biker who became a bartender, and then decided to seek his purpose in life, finding himself in Darfur seeing the water crisis first-hand. It is not known to many that water kills more people than cancer, malaria, and AIDS; over one-billion people do not have access to clean drinking water. They are so desperate to quench their thirst that they drink murky water not fit for consumption.

Most deaths due to water-related diseases are children whose immune systems are strong enough to combat bacteria in the water. Their mothers and fathers look on helplessly while their children’s lives hang in the balance. They knew very well that they should not be drinking such dirty water, but what choice did they have?

Bartender-Turned-CNN Hero

The situation in Darfur, a country gripped by genocide and never-ending civil war, is unimaginable for people like Doc who hails from the United States of America, where even the poorest can access clean drinking water. Seeing children die not because from, the war, but from drinking dirty water, was something Doc simply could not ignore.

Using his bartending connections and expertise, he established a non-profit organization called “Wine To Water.” According to him:

"One of the biggest things I took away from bartending was my ability to create relationships. You’re only good as a bartender if you have the ability to create a relationship with the person sitting on the other side of the bar. If you don’t have the ability to make that person want to come back and hang out with you, then you’re not going to succeed. I didn’t have all the technical skills that everyone else had in the beginning, but I looked at things differently. The first place I went was Darfur, and it was six months after my first event. I lived there for a year. The thing I noticed the most was that the other organizations with the engineering skills saw water as the only problem, so they’d drill a well in the ground and then leave. Instead of just saying, “Okay, this water is dirty, so let me go and drill a well in the ground,” my first concern was to get to know these people, to see what had already been done, and to identify what has and hasn’t worked. I found out that just throwing a well in the ground that costs $10,000 isn’t always the best fix. But I had to form relationships with the people to see that." (SOURCE: Imbibe)

It was not long before Doc Hendley, an average student, was awarded the “CNN Hero of the Year” award in 2009. Out of over 9,000 submissions, he found himself in the Top Ten.

A Father to Two Sons

Since founding his organization, Doc has never slowed down. He even took his family, including his two sons, to places where he works so they may understand what it’s like to live with very little resources.

When Don was asked how parenthood changed him, this is what he had to say:

"We decided to work in post conflict areas after Darfur because we began to focus more on the sustainability of our projects. That being said many of the places I go are still dangerous and I still take way more risks than most would. The thing that has changed is that I used to not really be afraid and I guess I was a bit reckless. Now even though I still take those risks, I have this element of fear that I am not used to. I guess it’s just being afraid that I will never get to see my wife and kids again if something happens. Hell, I’m even a little jumpy now on the plane on the way over to a place. I reckon having babies has just turned me into a big baby." (SOURCES: Penguin)

You may help Doc Hendley’s “Water to Wine” organization by visiting their website, found in the “Contacts Tab” of this profile.

Top Reasons why Doc Hendley is Extraordinary

  1. He founded “Wine to Water,” an organization that helps bring clean water to places that need it by holding wine-tasting events and other fundraising projects.
  2. He was a C-student who never set out to do something heroic, but is now spearheading an organization that has helped 250,000 people in 17 different countries.
  3. He was included in CNN’s “Top Ten Heroes” in 2009.
  4. He is a biker, and bought his first Harley Davison when he was 17 years old.
  5. From being a bartender, he is now an esteemed speaker who mobilizes people to help resolve the water crisis.

Biography of Doc Hendley

Date of Birth: Monday, 19 March 1979 | Born in:  / Nationality: United States of America

He admitted to not dreaming of becoming a hero, or someone who has set out to change the world. Deviant and stubborn, he fits the bill of a rebel. Although he had a preacher for a father, he did not make parenting easy. It came to a point when his mother was seriously worried about his future; she was afraid he would be found dead or end up in prison.

Far from an inspirational backstory, eh? It is, and Doc does not project himself as someone he is not. You can take one look at him and know he’s one tough guy - somebody you wouldn’t want to mess with. With Doc, however, the adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” aptly applies. Contrary to what most people make of him, he’s compassionate, profound and gentle.

A Passionate Speaker

He certainly shed some tears when he spoke at TEDxAsheville about his experience in Darfur. Imagine you have this burly speaker with a Southern accent in front of you, looking every bit a biker cum bartender, telling a pitiful story of people who don’t have access to clean water. His voice cracks upon sharing what those people are most afraid of. And you then feel embarrassed for thinking that a person working in a bar and riding a motorbike won’t be up to anything good.

Perhaps the allure of Doc’s story lies in this very contradiction. Looking back, there was no telling that he’d end up founding his own organization and saving the lives of thousands of people, who shared nothing in common with him, save for their being human. At a time when no one in his right mind would consider Darfur as a training location - given the tumultuous political milieu - it was where Doc decided to go. He went where humanitarian aids were not deployed due to war-related risks, two of his comrades were ambushed, and he witnessed children being used as army troops. But what struck him the most was, despite all the killing and threats, people were far more terrified of not having enough clean water to drink. Mothers watched helplessly as their children suffered from water-borne diseases. Desperate to quench their little ones’ thirst, they gave them water not fit for human consumption. These kids did not have the capability to fight off the bacteria, and so their bodies gave in to the diseases. Death is the worst case scenario.

It is either death from bullets, or death from water-related diseases. Doc figured that, if he couldn’t do something about the war, he could at least get people access to clean water. His first-hand experience is what fuels him to keep on fighting this war. We have all the reason to call him extraordinary, and we honor Doc by putting him - and his cause - on the spotlight.

Early Biography

Dickson Beattie "Doc" Hendley was the second child of Jeff and Libbi Hendley. He has one older sister, but is the eldest among the boys. He was born on 19 March 1979, two years after his sister. Because she could not say Dickson, his sister would call him “Doc.” Everybody then began calling him “Dickson Doc,” eventually dropping “Dickson” and allowing “Doc” to stick until he became a grown man.

If there’s one thing that Doc hated since he was a young boy, it was rules. He hated rigidity, and school was a place where rigid policies are imposed. Unlike his sister and brothers, Doc did not enjoy school. He skipped as much as he could and certainly fell short of excelling. He was the type from which nobody expected much. It is sad that he almost believed them; he thought that, because of his attitude towards discipline, nothing good would come from his life.

Childhood for Doc was mostly about being alone in the woods; independence was something that always took precedence in everything he did. Although a respected preacher, Doc’s father was not able to tame the rebel in him. Doc, however, adored his grandfather. When sked who his inspiration is, he shares in an interview:

"My grandfather for sure. He had to stop playing for the Steelers because of money issues and supporting his family and instead he created his own business where he went and cleaned toilets on his hands and knees. Over the years he has turned that business into a multi-million dollar corporation of his own ambitions and dedication. He had always been the most humble and giving man and a true inspiration to me." (SOURCE: Redesigning Our Future)

Doc is very much aware of how hard work can earn respect. The problem was he just did not know where to begin. He knew he had a purpose, but he was led to believe an average guy like him could not really accomplish anything. So he felt confined to be the mediocre student he thought everyone expected him to be. He found no motivation to work or excel at anything.

He was certain, however, that he had a penchant for riding motorbikes. In fact, he likes riding so much that he purchased his first Harley Davidson when he was only 17 years old!

Wine to Water

Doc felt that school was limiting him from doing what he truly loved, and so he dropped out of college after one semester. At the time, his only passion was riding. He got himself a job as a bartender and rode his bike wherever he went. Looking back, he realized it was bartending that honed his interpersonal skills. He discovered a knack for relating with people, and mulled over the idea of starting something meaningful that could mobilize the clients he met every day into working towards a purpose.

It remained an idea until one evening when he was jolted awake by the phrase “wine to water.” Being a preacher’s son, he was quite familiar with Jesus Christ’s first miracle—turning water into wine at a wedding banquet when the host ran out of liquor. Doc could not seem to get it out of his head. He wrote down the phrase, unable to shake it off and feeling a strong affinity towards the words. He then logged onto his parents’ computer to search the net about the water issues.

He found out that one of every six people in the world is a victim of water shortage. He could not believe what Google yielded and further verified his facts. Indeed, water crisis is a problem of over one-billion people. He found it difficult to believe, since it did received little attention from NGOs and the press. If the issue was of such a scale then he would have heard about it, he thought. But he didn’t. He concluded:

"... Here in the West, we help support things that we can empathize with. We know what it's like to lose a loved one to a disease like cancer. We understand what it means to need a good, solid education for a child. So (those causes) get a lot of the spotlight. But it's hard for us to empathize with the water crisis. We wash our cars; we water our lawn. We just can't imagine what it's like to not have access to water." (SOURCE: CNN)

From Bartender to CNN Hero

Bothered by his discovery, he used his connections to raise funds and sell bottles of wine for charity. The positive response from wine enthusiasts afforded him to collect quite a substantial donation. Believing it better to have an organization manage the funds, he arranged a meeting with Samaritan Purse, an NGO with a systematic water program already in place.

The meeting with Kenny Isaacs was rather unusual. The program director of Samaritan Purse asked Doc what prompted him to go to such lengths to help remedy the water crisis. Doc explained that he truly felt he had a purpose when he realized he could use his bartending skills in raising funds. Instead of leaving the money to Samaritan’s Purse, Doc went home with a job offer. Kenny wanted him to go to Darfur to train in rebuilding wells and learn the ropes of volunteerism.

So, in 2003, Doc set out to Darfur with nothing but his bartending experience. He did not know what to expect in a country where genocide was sponsored by its very own government. He met many sorts of people while in Darfur, and walked on the soil of the most dangerous spots where no volunteers are allowed to go. Doc went under his own will, along with a few others who found it in their hearts to assist him in his crusade.

What he witnessed was nothing short of terrifying. Children who can carry guns are used as additional troops; water wells are either destroyed or poisoned; and, as unbelievable as it is, more children [worldwide] die of water-related diseases than HIV, cancer, and malaria combined. In Darfur, people are more afraid of not having enough water to drink than losing their life in a senseless war.

He lost two of his volunteers, and saw many others perish from starvation and thirst. The grief he had was then exacerbated by a boy named Mustafa: a child soldier who has killed more people than some war veterans. When Doc asked him if he is scared of fighting, the boy replied that it isn’t bullets that make him afraid, but the thought that they won’t have enough water to drink. Other soldiers he spoke with shared the same sentiment. It broke their hearts to see their children die of diarrhea and other diseases that are caused by drinking dirty water.

The overall experience left him wondering about his “Wine to Water” crusade. A year after he had left for Darfur, he came home a different man. To his frustration, he couldn’t seem to relay what he experienced in Darfur to people back home because of the vastly-different lifestyles and resource availabilities. It pained him to see that people in his country have so much while others have little to nothing.

He struggled until he met Amber, a woman who saw his need to talk about his experience and later became his guide. She strongly encouraged him to keep what he already started, and a month and a half after leaving Darfur (2004), Doc organized the first-ever Wine to Water tasting event. All 5,000 bottles of wine were sold out. And that’s when he knew that his approach would click.

Three years later, “Wine to Water” officially became a 501 non-profit organization. Then, in 2009, Doc made it to CNN’s Top Ten Heroes. Wine to Water has helped thousands of people in Sudan, Haiti, Uganda, Peru, Darfur, Guatemala, Syria, Columbia, Philippines, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, South Africa, and Cambodia, among many others.

Doc is now a father; he has two sons and lives with his wife, Amber, who also remains his counselor. His life is now geared towards providing for his family and, at the same time, bringing help to over one-billion people plagued by the water crisis. Also, despite his distaste for school, he successfully completed college.

Organizations and Programmes Supported

  • Wine to Water
  • See Agency
  • Samaritan Purse

Awards and Achievements

  • 2004: Founded “Wine to Water”
  • 2009: Made it to the "Top 10 Finalists for CNN’s Hero of Year"

Wine To Water (Our Story)
Wine To Water (Founder's Story) (Bio)
CNN (Former bartender turns wine into water)
CNN (Bartender helps turn wine to water in developing world)
High Country Press (Wine To Water Founder Doc Hendley Nominated One of Top 10 CNN Heroes)
Penguin Group (Wine to Water - Doc Hendley)
Facebook (Wine To Water)
Amazon (Wine to Water: How One Man Saved Himself While Trying to Save the World)
TED (Doc Hendley)
High Country Press (CNN Heroes Special Presentation Honors Doc Hendley and Wine to Water in a Special Premiering Dec. 15)
LinkedIn (Doc Hendley)
Conscious Magazine (Doc Hendley: Ex-Bartender Serves Up Clean Water)
Imbibe (Q&A with Doc Hendley)
MPI (Doc Hendley Pours A Healthy Drink)
In Service Brotherhood (ISB Great People InService - Doc Hendley) (Doc Hendley: Moto Man on a Mission)
Redesigning Our Future (Doc Hendley Interview)

Quotes by Doc Hendley

Every one of us is brilliant.
The people are what's important.
I see water as a foundation for any humanitarian work.
I would not give a parent something I wouldn't use for my own child.
Folks can get involved and be a part of what’s going on without writing a check.
Our goal will always be to do as much work as we can with as little money as is required.
If each mile can raise money to help us help these people, then I will ride as far and hard as I can.
But if I did not take that step just because it's too big of a problem, we wouldn't be anywhere right now.
If you found something you're passionate about, I don't care who you are, what you do, you will make a difference.
You can be an average, every day individual but you can have a huge extraordinary impact in the world around you.
People think we need to learn in school before we can do anything, but we have all of the ability to act right now to make a difference.

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