Phil Smith, Walt Disney World’s first employee, dies at age 83

Phil Smith, who was Walt Disney World’s first permanent employee, died Tuesday, February 23 at the age of 83 of complications from kidney disease and COPD. Smith began working for Disney as a lawyer back in 1965 while the company was quietly buying up the land that would eventually become Walt Disney World. His wife said, “He really didn’t know that it was Disney yet.” Dick Nunis, retired chairman of Walt Disney Attractions, said, “He really built a very fine legal organization that really, frankly, kept us out of trouble. Under Phil Smith I never had to worry about any legal problems. I knew we had a very competent guy that would take care of it. His standard quote – this should be on his gravestone – was, ‘Let me see if I can find a way.’” Smith helped create the Reedy Creek Improvement District, Disney’s governing body. He also lived on a piece of Disney property with his wife and two toddlers, watching over the land during the early days of construction. When Smith retired in the early 1990s, he was Walt Disney World’s senior vice president of administration and support. George Kalogridis, Walt Disney World president, said, “Phil played a significant role in the development of Walt Disney World and his contributions will long be remembered. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.” News source/photo credit: Orlando Sentinel  
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