A few weeks ago, the This Week At Disney team had the privilege of attending a one of a kind exhibit in San Francisco, CA: The Walt Disney Family Museum. Put together by his daughter Diane, this beautiful dedication to the true American entrepreneur, Walt Disney, is a sight to see. The museum story begins back with the birth of Disney and spans all the way to his death, though his legacy survived far beyond his physical being.
His tenacity and absolute refusal to quit shaped him into the incredible businessman that he became, however, there was a rather “dark” side to his achievements. Walt knew exactly what he wanted to accomplish. He had his plans set up and his dreams all in a line so that nothing could derail him. But, as we all know too well, Walt passed away before he could see the pinnacle of his work created in EPCOT: the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. This was to be a fully functioning city created in in the mind of Walt Disney and placed in Orlando, Florida for the world to delight in. As we also know, EPCOT is nothing like what Walt had initially envisioned. He saw a community of individuals living together, not another theme park like Disneyland (though we can certainly argue that Disneyland and every Disney Park in existence is something far more than a mere theme park.)
When Walt discovered that he had lung cancer and that his days were numbered, he began to panic. He believed that all he had worked to create would never come to fruition and his legacy would be long forgotten and abandoned. His greatest fear was that he did not leave things solidly enough to where they could continue without his guidance. This was no more prevalent than in a letter that Walt wrote to his older brother Roy on May 31, 1963, just before his death:
“When I’m up in heaven playing my harp, I really couldn’t put my heart into it, if I thought I had left things in a mess down here!”
This letter is mounted on the wall at the very end of the Disney Family Museum. Just before you walk into the room with the name “Walter Elias Disney” on the wall surrounded by drawings and paintings of all of his characters mourning for him. This letter sets you up perfectly to feel the utter despair and heartbreak that Walt Disney felt; and then, to walk into a room covered from wall to wall with sobbing Mickey’s…it is almost too much to bear.
I personally felt overcome with sadness and even anger at the fact that this great man, artist, entrepreneur, and true American was never able to see the completion of EPCOT or what Walt Disney World would eventually become. But looking upon the face of Mickey Mouse, sitting in his chair, shedding a tear for the man who created that mouse in his own image, I realized that being upset and sad at this tragic loss of life did not make sense anymore.
Walt Disney is unmatched in many ways as a true go-getter and overall hardworking person. It is okay to feel sad that we were not granted the opportunity to see what else he could create were he to live a full life, and it is even more tragic that he was not alive to see everything that he helped create to this day. However, I take two very important notions away from what might be seen as a sad occurrence at its face but in reality is truly happy. For one, Walt Disney has to know everything that he has done down here. I see him sitting in heaven right next to Roy and Lillian Disney playing his sweet harp as they all look down and smile on the utopia that Walt Disney saw in Disney World and Roy carried out. Secondly, the only way that Walt Disney World was made possible, that Walt Disney Animation was made possible, that all the Disney Pixar films, all the characters, all the strides in animations, all the movies, all the parks, every single little thing that comes out of the Disney Company was made possible, is because Walt Disney himself set up his legacy to continue on. Though he feared that he could really be the only one to carry out his vision, he intentionally and unintentionally prepared all those around him to carry on the Disney way long after he was gone. His spirit and passion were so contagious that every person he touched wanted his visions to come to fruition almost as badly as he did.
With the help of Roy and all those that Walt inspired, the Disney Company continued on. It not only formed EPCOT, but it succeeded to this date to such an incredible height that I do not think even Walt Disney knew what his company was capable of. But he planted his roots so deep and so strongly, that every single person who followed him in his company saw the vision. That is why the Disney Company still thrives and still grows to this day: the legacy created by Walt Disney stands the test of time.
“Legacies that matter are connected with people. A hundred years from now all that will matter is the people that you connected with in such a way tat you added value and meaning to their lives.”
-John C. Maxwell-