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Orange County says goodbye to landmark urban planner

Raymond Watson aided planning for the Irvine Co. and Walt Disney Co.

by Caitlin AdamsPublished: October 23, 2012 03:15 PM

Raymond Watson, a veteran of the Walt Disney Company and a leading figure in Southern California’s urban planning and development, has died. The former chief planner of the Irvine Co. passed away in Newport Beach due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was 86.  

Watson came from an architecture background to become the Irvine Co.’s first urban planner. With a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture from UC Berkeley, he was hired on at the Irvine Co. in 1960 as the planner for the new University of California campus, before the city of Irvine event existed. He would later go on to plan the local landmarks of Newport Center and Fashion Island.

Watson would move through the ranks of the Irvine Co. to become its president before leaving in 1977. He would later return to serve as the company’s vice chairman from 1986 to 2003.

Walt Disney called upon Watson to help design early plans for EPCOT in Florida in the early 1960s, according to Bob Iger, CEO of the Walt Disney Co. In a statement provided to The Hollywood Reporter, Iger offered the company’s condolences to Watson’s family. Watson was instrumental not only in the early design and development of the second Disney theme park; he would later return as a member of the company’s board.

“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,” Iger said in the statement.

Watson served as the Walt Disney Co.’s interim chairman of the board in 1983, a time when the entertainment giant was lacking solid direction and industry observers predicted real trouble for its future. Watson was instrumental in hiring Michael Eisner and Frank Wells, two executives who led the Walt Disney Co. to more solid ground and established it as the multimillion-dollar brand and entertainment firm it is today. Watson later served as chairman of the company’s executive committee and retired from the company in 2004.

Watson is survived by his wife Elsa, his two sons and two daughters, ten grandchildren, and sister.

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