Ruthie Tompson, Disney Animation Pioneer, Turns 110 in Quarantine

Portrait of Ruthie Tompson - Publicity - H 2020
The Walt Disney Company

"I don't know why I am still here, but I know that I don't want to be revered for how old I am, I want to be known for who I am," says the MPTF resident. Her first pandemic was the 1918 Spanish flu. When this one is over, she "can't wait to watch my Dodgers and eat a Dodger dog."

Ruthie Tompson, a longtime Disney animation supervisor and now the oldest resident at the Motion Picture & Television Fund's Country House and Hospital, turns 110 in COVID-19 quarantine on Wednesday. She's celebrating by attempting to raise $110,000 in support of a postproduction suite at the Woodland Hills campus' in-house television and video facility, where she and other retirees have spent countless hours continuing to pursue their industry crafts.

The MPTF facility hasn't reported a COVID-19-positive resident for three and a half months. Since the crisis began, 17 residents have fallen ill and six have died of complications from the virus. In addition, 19 campus staff members have been sickened, all of whom have recovered.

Tompson's first pandemic was the 1918 Spanish Flu. While her memories of that cataclysm are thin ("I was young at the time"), she's spoken of wearing a mask, amid crowds of others doing the same, during celebrations that marked the end of World War I.

Born in 1910 in Portland, Maine, Tompson moved with her family to Los Angeles when she was 8. They took up residence down the street from Walt and Roy Disney, who were then beginning their namesake studio out of their uncle's garage. Tompson recalls sitting on an apple box beside them until she'd be told to go home for dinner. Years later, she was hired, a pioneering woman at the company and in her field.

She first joined the Ink and Paint Department. During the next four decades, Tompson worked in various capacities, including reviewing animation cels before they were filmed and scene planning on films such as Fantasia, Dumbo, Sleeping Beauty and Mary Poppins.

Asked about the secret to her longevity, Tompson offers jokes: "It's because I'm a vampire!"; "How can I tell you my secret, because then it won't be a secret!"; "I'm a dummy for living this long!" Then she turns serious. "I don't know why I am still here, but I know that I don't want to be revered for how old I am, I want to be known for who I am."

As for wisdom she's acquired along the way, she offers: "Have fun. Try to do as much as you can for yourself. Remember all the good things in life."

Tompson has been keeping busy during lockdown with her job at a nursing station, where she answers phones. "The problem is, I can't always hear what the person on the other end says," she observes with a laugh. "Then I tool around in my electric wheelchair and visit my neighbors here — sometimes the staff reminds me to 'distance, distance!'"

Her favorite Disney film to revisit over the years alongside younger generations in her family — the never-married Tompson has no children but several nieces, grand-nieces and -nephews — is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: "We worked into the night, day after day, until we got it exactly right!"

When the lockdown ends, she's hoping to pay a visit to Disney — not the amusement park in Anaheim, but the studio in Burbank — and to enjoy her favorite baseball team. "I can't wait to watch my Dodgers and eat a Dodger dog," she enthuses. Notes MPTF CEO Bob Beitcher: "She's a lifelong Dodgers fan — I'm not — so we've had a nice little back and forth on that." He adds: "It must have been four or five years ago that they got eliminated from the playoffs. I said, 'Hey, Ruthie, too bad about the Dodgers.' She said, 'Don't worry, we'll get 'em next year!' I thought, 'That's the definition of optimism.' Not just for the Dodgers, but, past 100, for her. But then that's Ruthie. She's ferocious."

Tompson is also looking forward to a future when she can embrace family, friends and staff again on-campus. She's expecting a visit from loved ones on her birthday, allowed under a compassionate care exemption. (The facility had recently begun allowing limited, chaperoned, no-touch visits for several weeks, but ended the policy on July 20 due to rising coronavirus case numbers in L.A. County.)

MPTF staff will be decorating the hallway near Tompson's residence for her birthday with Disney and Dodgers memorabilia, as well as donning the team's gear.

Donations can be made toward her MPTF goal by clicking here.