Ray Watson, Longtime Walt Disney Co. Board Member, Dies

Ron Watson Portrait - P 2012

Ron Watson Portrait - P 2012

UPDATED: He served on the company's board for 30 years, including a stint as chairman in the 1980s.

Raymond Watson, who served on the board of the Walt Disney Co. for 30 years, died Saturday at his home in Newport Beach, Calif., from complications due to Parkinson’s disease. He was 86.

Watson’s route to Disney began in 1960 when he became chief planner at the Irvine Co., helping the firm figure out what to do with its 93,000-acre ranch in Orange County.

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He rose through the ranks at Irvine Co., leaving the company in 1977 and rejoining as vice chairman from 1986 and retiring in 2003.

He helped build a master-planned community at Irvine Ranch and helped to create the City of Irvine and the University of California, Irvine, as well as Fashion Island and other notable landmarks.

His work brought him to the attention of Walt Disney, who was considering expanding the company’s theme park business into Florida and elsewhere, and he joined Disney’s board of directors in 1974.

Watson served as Disney’s board chairman in 1983 and 1984 and was later chairman of the company’s executive committee before retiring from the board in 2004.

“On behalf of everyone at Disney, we mourn the loss of Disney legend Ray Watson, a dear friend and trusted adviser,” CEO Bob Iger said in a statement emailed to The Hollywood Reporter.

“Ray’s indelible contributions to Disney’s great legacy began when Walt Disney himself called on Ray for his wise counsel onearly plans for EPCOT. Throughout his 30-year tenure as a member of the Disney board of directors, Ray exhibited incredible leadership, sound judgment, and grace under pressure, particularly during the difficult period in the mid-1980s when he served as our chairman of the board.  With deep respect for Ray and his tireless work and great love for Disney, we extend our condolences to his wonderful family.”

Watson is survived by his wife of 58 years, Elsa Watson, and their four children Kathy (husband Bill), Bryan (wife Lisa), Lisa (husband Michael and David (wife Julie). He is also survived by 10 grandchildren and his sister, Doris.

“Our father was passionate about his work and could never imagine doing anything else professionally,” son David Watson said. “But to us, he was a loving and devoted husband, father, grandfather and brother who supported us in our life journeys with love and support. He will always be lovingly remembered by his family and friends for his keen intellect, ever-ready problem solving skills, commitment to fairness and balanced devotion to his family and work. His wonderful manner of dry and fun humor often kept us all laughing and crying at the same time.”