Today is the 50th Anniversary of the opening of Walt Disney World! What better event could I be celebrating with you today? Today, I am celebrating the start of it all when Walt Disney passed his vision to his brother, Roy, and the rest is history.
I am sure that from the time we have spent together, you know that I am an admirer and student of Walt Disney. From what I have read about his childhood, Walt Disney and his brother, Roy were always very close. From the time Walt was born, Roy (who was 8 years older) spent a lot of time with him.
They were confidants, business partners, brothers and best friends. Throughout their lives they shared in devastating sorrows and celebrated larger-than-life accomplishments. When two people are that close, while being as different in personality as Walt and Roy were, problems can arise. Often, they fought over projects and plans and sometimes they didn’t talk to each other for a while.
If you think about it, that might seem to be the best kind of relationship; the dreamer and the one that can thoughtfully and patiently bring it to fruition. Unfortunately, having a wish or idea in your mind and anything (or anyone) standing in your way makes for a lot of frustration and a trying relationship. Luckily, with Walt and Roy, love always won in the end.
As most of you know, Walt Disney died of lung cancer at the age of 65 on December 15, 1966. The greatest tribute of brotherly love came after Walt’s death.
Acres and acres of land had been purchased in Florida with the dream of making a “Disneyworld” in parallel to the California park being called “Disneyland.” When Walt died, there was talk of just dropping the project altogether. Thankfully, Roy came out of retirement and took on the huge undertaking of making sure Walt’s dream was completed.
As we all know, Walt Disney World opened its doors on October 1, 1971. In his final tribute to his little brother, Roy had the park renamed to “Walt Disney World” so everyone would be reminded that it was Walt’s project and dream into which they were entering.
Roy dedicated the park to Walt on October 25th, 1971. I think a lot about what it would have been like to have been there that day. I have, in fact, heard a very touching story about the love of one brother to another that happened on that very eventful day.
As you might suspect, there was a great deal of security around Roy O. Disney during opening day at Walt Disney World. Somehow, though, Roy managed to sneak away from the entire crowd and disappear for a while. It turned out that he snuck over to one of the boats at the Contemporary Resort. He got on the boat and asked the captain to please just drive. He was out on the lake for a while. Meanwhile, everyone was frantically searching for him and growing increasingly worried.
A little while later, he told the boat captain to go ahead and return him to shore. With a solemn look and dewey skin, he turned to the captain and said, “This was all started from the wonderful dream of my brother, and he didn’t live to see it.” My eyes fill with tears even while I am typing this.
Once he arrived back at the park, Roy Disney stood facing the microphone ready to make his dedication speech to the crowd and suddenly he turned around for help. He quietly said, “Somebody go find Mickey for me. We don’t have Walt anymore, and Mickey is the nearest thing to Walt that we have left.” Mickey joined him at the podium and Roy promptly began his speech, with Mickey proudly at his side.
After talking briefly about his brother and his dreams, and about being in business together, Roy read the bronze dedication plaque still displayed on Main Street, U.S.A:
“Walt Disney World is a tribute to the philosophy and life of Walter Elias Disney… and to the talents, the dedication, and the loyalty of the entire Disney organization that made Walt Disney’s dream come true. May Walt Disney World bring Joy and Inspiration and New Knowledge to all who come to this happy place… a Magic Kingdom where the young at heart of all ages can laugh and play and learn — together.” — Roy O. Disney, October 25, 1971.
After the opening of Walt Disney World, Roy planned to retire once again. In fact, he booked a cruise for him and his wife, Edna, which would be departing in February. Roy intended to enjoy his retirement this time, just relaxing and spending time with his family. On December 20, 1971 (less than 2 months after the dedication), Roy Disney died of a massive brain hemorrhage.
Because of the love and dedication he had for his brother, Walt’s legacy will live forever. Without it, Walt Disney World would never have been built. As a testament to his faithfulness, you can find a heart-warming statue of Roy sitting with Minnie Mouse in the Town Square section of Main Street USA, not too far from the statue of his little brother and Mickey Mouse at the center of the park.
If you look at Walt’s statue, which is in front of Cinderella Castle (shown above), you will notice that his hand is pointing in the direction of the other end of Main Street, where the statue of his brother sits. I think it is truly fitting that Walt is wearing his Mickey ring and pointing in such a way lest we forget who made his dream come true.
I cannot imagine the blood, sweat and tears it took Roy to oversee such a huge and painstaking project, all the while dealing with the heartache of losing his brother. This bond is another special part of Walt Disney World that not everyone thinks about. I hope the next time you are in the Magic Kingdom, you will look for these statues and recognize the wonder in a brother’s love.
For those of us who love Walt Disney World, today is truly a celebration! It is also a remembrance of the foundation of love that it was built upon. Walt Disney World is not a destination for us; but it is truly a part of each of our hearts. A big part that holds precious, treasured memories. We are grateful for the role it has played in our lives, and we pray that no one ever loses sight of just what went into the building of it.