"She loved being a mother and you could see the maturity and satisfaction that Josey (her 5-year-old son she shared with ex-husband Ryan Dorsey) brought," George Rivera tells PEOPLE

By Johnny Dodd
June 09, 2021 02:00 PM
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naya and george rivera
George Rivera and Naya Rivera
| Credit: Courtesy George Rivera

In the months before her tragic drowning last July 8, Glee star Naya Rivera was plotting a course for her future, her father George Rivera tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview in this week's issue. 

"She was looking forward to so many things," says George, 64. "She was in a good place. And she saw a way forward."

"She loved being a mother and you could see the maturity and satisfaction that Josey (her 5-year-old son she shared with ex-husband Ryan Dorsey) brought. It was a good time for her," he says.

Sadly, the 33-year-old actress' body was found floating in the waters of Lake Piru, 60 miles north of Los Angeles, five days after going missing during an afternoon excursion in a rented pontoon boat with her son.

For more from Naya Rivera's father, George, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here

naya rivera
Naya Rivera
| Credit: Jon Kopaloff/Filmmagic

Her death left family, friends and fans reeling - and wondering exactly where her career might have taken the actress, who rose to fame playing the outspoken, gay cheerleader Santana Lopez on Fox's musical comedy series Glee

Music appeared to be in Naya's future, according to her dad.

In one of their last conversations about two weeks before her death, George - who has been divorced from Naya's mother Yolanda since 1996 when Naya was 9 - and his daughter were plotting out Naya's upcoming trip to Nashville.   

naya and george rivera
Naya Rivera and dad George Rivera
| Credit: Courtesy George Rivera

George, who was planning to meet her there, hoped to help reinvigorate her singing career. 

"She was really looking forward to starting to record music again," he says. "Our relationship was really bonded around music."

"She was a pretty good writer and wrote a lot of poetry, but she didn't play any instruments, so we'd been looking for collaborators and we found this young group who she liked and who were good songwriters," says George.

geeorge rivera
George Rivera
| Credit: Yuri Hasagawa

George's eyes well up with tears when thinks about what might have been. 

Listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day for more on PEOPLE's interview with George Rivera.

"I never cared if she was an actress," he admits. "I'm a music guy, a former musician and frustrated disc jockey. I always wanted her to sing, record and, more importantly, write music. I was so happy about that upcoming trip - and so was she."