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Raymond Watson, former Disney chairman, dies

Architect helped shape company's vision for expansion

Raymond L. Watson, a community planner and architect who served as chairman of Walt Disney Prods. from 1983-84 and helped guide the company’s expansion as a member of its board of directors, died from complications of Parkinson’s disease on Saturday, Oct. 20, in Newport Beach, Calif. He was 86.

Watson began serving on the Disney board in 1974. He served for a time as 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 advisor,” said Disney chairman-CEO Robert A. Iger. “Ray’s indelible contributions to Disney’s great legacy began when Walt Disney himself called on Ray for his wise counsel on early 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.”

Watson was an influential figure in Orange County who served as the Irvine Co.’s original architect and urban planner, creating one of the largest and most successful master planned communities in the U.S. on the historical Irvine Ranch. His work included the creation of the city of Irvine, UC Irvine, Newport Center and Fashion Island. Watson went on to become president of the Irvine Co. and later vice chairman.

Watson’s work and leadership caught the eye of Walt Disney, who was considering expansion in Florida and beyond. In 1974 Watson was invited to join the Disney board of directors, where he helped guide the company’s vision for expansion.

Among Watson’s many other activities, he was a trustee of Occidental College.

Born in Seattle, Watson grew up in Oakland. He received a bachelor’s and master’s in architecture from UC Berkeley.

Watson is survived by his wife of 58 years, Elsa Watson; two daughters; two sons; his sister; and 10 grandchildren.

A memorial service for Watson is tentatively planned for Nov. 11 in the Irvine area.

Donations may be made to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation or the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

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