"Uncle Walt" December 17, 1992
That's what some of the close friends who worked with Walt Disney called him.
I never got that close to Disney. Oh, I guess I was close enough in the early 1950's when I helped him turn a spade of earth. It was during the ceremonies commemorating the ground breaking for the construction of a new five story wing at St. Joseph's hospital in Burbank.
Disney had given the land earmarked for the hospital in the early 1940's. It was his generosity that was responsible for the establishment of the facility. The hospital site was directly across the street from the Disney Studios.
A CALL FROM "GOD"....
DIsney,a couple of weeks before the planned event, had placed a personal telephone call to me. He was inviting a few of the many "honorary mayors" of the San Fernando Valley to be his guests at the function. I was a nearby Studio City resident, elected by the Chamber of Commerce as the titular head of that non-existent governmental body. There were a lot of us celebrity types living all over the SF valley who had that pseudo title.
I was to represent my "City" to help the kick-off of the construction of the new medical center. Getting that personal call from Walt Disney is one of the highlights of my lifetime. I wouldn't have been more impressed if the President of the United States had been on the other end of the line.
When he identified himself I simply didn't believe him. I was positive that it was a friend just having fun. It wasn't.
"All of the San Fernando Valley will benefit from the hospital," Disney told me. He also said that's why he was invitng the nearby "Heads of State" to be with him at the ground-breaking. The very short but cordial conversation ended with his "See you there."
THE BIG DAY...
At the dedication scene, as best as I can recall 40-plus years later, there was the usual colorful platform. It was decorated with all the Disney characters, Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto, etc. Seated next to me was another of the "mayors," a nce man by the name of Tex Ritter. Tex's son has done pretty well. I'm talking about TV and movie star John Ritter.
There were other luminaries there, all of whom time has erased from my memory. Disney introduced us and invited us to gather around him to help plant the shovel and hoist the first mound of terra firma. On the podium was a huge artists' rendering of the new wing. As I recall, the windows of that new structure faced Disney's studio.
26 YEARS AGO THIS WEEK...
In that same St. Joseph's Hospital, "Uncle Walt" died Dec. 15, 1966. He was 65 years old. I feel sure his last view must have been from one of those windows facing his studios. I am also reasonably convinced that he must have fleetingly reflected on his wonderful, creative era while he was there.
Twelve years after Disney's passing, my first granddaughter, Holland Lee Hawthorne, was born at St. Joseph's. After visiting Holly, her new mom, Candy and her new dad, my son Scott, I sauntered over to a nearby window. I took a moment and gazed at the view.
I couldn't help thinking about the irony of the circumstances. The hospital to which I had given a miniscule moment of tribute was the scene of two milestones. One, the exiting from this world by a great man I barely knew. And, two, the arrival of a new life that means so much to me.
© December 17, 1992 Jim Hawthorne