Remembering Roy E. Disney PO ’51

Pomona College Alumnus Roy Edward Disney ‘51, the namesake of Pomona’s Disney Professorship in Creative Writing, died Dec. 16 after a yearlong bout with stomach cancer.

Disney, the billionaire nephew of Walt Disney and longtime senior executive for The Walt Disney Company, graduated with a degree in English. A longtime donor to the school, his contributions helped establish the Disney Professorship in 2000, which brought the late David Foster Wallace to Pomona two years later.

“Mr. Disney was a quiet supporter,” said Chris Ponce, Pomona’s vice president for institutional advancement. “He was someone who tended to stay out of the limelight.”

A leading contributor to the school, Disney helped his class “set a new reunion fundraising and participation record on the occasion of his 50th reunion in 2001,” Ponce said.

Disney was seen as a behind-the-scenes force at The Walt Disney Company, working to protect his uncle’s creative legacy and guiding the company through the successful “Disney Renaissance” years of the 1990s. Frustrated by the company’s declining fortunes in the mid-1980s, Disney urged a reinvestment in traditional animation design and paved the way for a new management team led by Michael Eisner. He also maintained his family’s creative drive, spearheading the production of Fantasia 2000, a sequel to the 1940 animated film Fantasia.

Disney was also an avid sailor, funding the design of “ultra-light” displacement yachts and competing regularly in sailing competitions, as reported in Pomona College Magazine. He frequently took home awards in the biennial 2,200-mile Transpacific Yacht Race from Los Angeles to Honolulu, competing from 1975 until he was well into his 70s.

The Roy E. Disney Professorship in Creative Writing is one of Pomona’s most prestigious teaching positions. This semester, major writers from across the country are visiting campus to interview for the post.

The Disney Chair brings “prestige” to the college, said English Department Chair Kevin Dettmar. Disney’s contribution “makes the salary competitive,” but also reflects a “commitment from the college” that goes beyond the English Department, he said.

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