Disneyland President Jack B. Lindquist, who joined the Magic Kingdom when it was 6 weeks old and surrounded by orange groves, announced Wednesday that he will retire on Nov. 18--Mickey Mouse’s 65th birthday.
“It’s never easy to walk away from something like this. I have the best job in the world,” Lindquist, 66, said Wednesday. “But from a personal standpoint, it’s the right time. It’s been a great 38 years.”
Lindquist, who was hired by Walt Disney to be the park’s first advertising manager in 1955, is widely credited with playing a key role in making Disneyland a world-famous tourist attraction.
From marketing the old “E tickets” and advertising the arrival of the Small World, to lobbying for the $3-billion Disneyland expansion, Lindquist has been involved in nearly every aspect of the theme park. Recently, he ventured into professional sports, becoming the chairman of Disney’s Mighty Ducks hockey team.
Disney chairman Michael D. Eisner lauded Lindquist on Wednesday. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s not retiring,” Eisner said. “He will still be a consultant with us five years after he can’t walk anymore.”
Although Lindquist has frequently discussed plans to retire by the end of the year, many people believed that he would make his announcement after the entertainment giant had formally committed to the Disneyland expansion.
“I think many of us are curious who will become the chief local spokesperson and leader for Disneyland and the Disney project,” Anaheim Mayor Tom Daly said. “Because of the size of Disney’s payroll and its important presence in Orange County, his position is automatically a very important one.”
Disney officials would not comment on any successor. Lindquist said he didn’t know who would replace him. He added, however, that his departure would have no impact on the company’s ambitious expansion plans.
On Wednesday, Lindquist reflected fondly on his years with the company and the career he had forged, while those who know him praised his commitment to the community, his tenacity on behalf of Disneyland and his gregarious personality.
“He has personified Disney’s presence in Orange County, second only to Walt Disney himself,” Daly said.
Anaheim was just a sleepy little city with 84 hotel rooms when Lindquist started working at Disneyland. Katella Avenue and Ball Road were dusty two-lane roads. And, when he tried to get across town, he often got lost in the area’s maze of orange groves.
“When I first came here I thought I would stay around for three or four years and never thought about it becoming a career,” he recalled. “In my 25th year it dawned on me that I finally found a home.”
Lindquist, like Walt Disney a Chicago native, rose through the ranks at the park, going from advertising director to marketing manager of Disneyland in 1965, then to marketing director of Disneyland and Walt Disney World in 1971. He was named senior vice president of Walt Disney Productions in 1980 and executive vice president of marketing for all Walt Disney Attractions in 1987. In October, 1990, he became president of Disneyland.
Though Walt Disney died nearly three decades ago, when Lindquist speaks of him, it is as if Disney were still alive. Lindquist occasionally refers to his former boss as Walt and drops stories about the early days when the two broke ground for park projects.
Despite that familiarity, Lindquist said he and Disney maintained a mostly business relationship.
“It’s not like I went over to his house for the Sunday barbecue,” Lindquist said. “He was the boss.”
Disney, in fact, always referred to Lindquist as “Bob,” not Jack.
“I don’t know why,” he said, chuckling. “Said I looked like a Bob.”
In addition to his commitment to the company, Lindquist has been active in the community and many service organizations. He has also devoted his time to charitable causes.
Lindquist is a member of the California Angels advisory board, is president of the Orange County Sports Assn. and is chairman of the Orange County Points of Light leadership council.
Orange County Supervisor William G. Steiner, the former executive director of Orangewood Children’s Home, said he frequently sees Lindquist at philanthropic functions.
“Jack put a human face on the the Disney corporation,” Steiner said. “He’s a very personable man. He is on the board of several charitable organizations and he was involved, not detached, from the community.”
Michael J. Sofia, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Anaheim, said Lindquist made sure Disneyland gave toys, games and clothes to his club’s members at Christmas.
“That’s why I get frustrated with those people who are opposed to Disneyland’s (expansion),” Sofia said. “They don’t know how much Disneyland has supported not only the Boys and Girls Club, but nonprofit groups all over Orange County. Jack has been very instrumental in making sure Disneyland gives back to the community.”
Keith Murdoch, who was Anaheim’s city manager from 1950 to 1976, said that Lindquist was the creator of Disneyland’s graduation night parties, which are now attended by thousands of high school seniors annually.
“There was really nothing like that available at the time for teen-agers and it was well-appreciated by the parents and the kids,” Murdoch said.
But the thing most people say about Lindquist is that he is uncommonly good-natured.
The short, plump man with a seemingly permanent grin almost looks like he stepped out of a Disney movie.
Many of Lindquist’s acquaintances said Wednesday that his good-natured personality was infectious.
“There’s a very pleasant, happy, cute aspect to Jack,” Daly said. “I think Disney should model a character after him. I suspect he’s not going to retire, that he’s going to put on Happy’s costume and become one of the Seven Dwarfs.”
Anaheim City Councilman Bob D. Simpson said Lindquist “has been the park’s goodwill ambassador in its dealings with the city. I have thoroughly enjoyed knowing him.”
Former City Councilwoman Miriam Kaywood said Lindquist is “a quiet, unassuming man, but brilliant in his creativity. . . . He has come up with many of the things that make Disneyland what it is.”
But there was a hard, business side to the Disneyland marketeer too. When the city of Anaheim in 1975 tried to institute an admissions tax at local entertainment venues to pay for public works improvements around the park, it was Lindquist and former California Angels executive A.E. (Red) Patterson who led the opponents.
Former Mayor William J. Thom recalled the campaign and the lobbying--including talk about recall elections, a letter-writing campaign and buses bringing people to pack the council chambers. The opposition campaign was so fierce, Thom said, that he “chickened out” and cast the vote that killed the tax.
It has apparently left a bad taste in Thom’s mouth. “I hate everyone at Disneyland,” he said Wednesday as he declined to laud Lindquist on his retirement. Then he cussed Lindquist but added that their disagreements were never personal.
If there was one ingredient to success at his job, Lindquist said it came from loving to work at “The Happiest Place on Earth.”
“It is unlike any place I know,” he said. “It’s unique and exciting. There can never be another Disneyland.”
Over the years, he said, he met dozens of dignitaries and celebrities, including Presidents Kennedy, Truman, Reagan, Bush and Eisenhower, as well as Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India.
Nonetheless, he said, it’s time to leave.
Despite high-profile appearances at public rallies and meetings on the Disneyland Resort project, Lindquist has been telling people at private functions he is looking forward to retirement.
When he leaves, he said, he plans to spend time with his wife, Belle, their seven children and 11 grandchildren, play golf, tennis “and maybe do a little writing.”
Lindquist has bought a large boat and a house in Newport Beach on Linda Isle, where he plans to relax and enjoy boating.
“This is a plan he’s had for a long time,” said Ray Watson, a vice chairman of the board of directors at the Irvine Co. and a member of the Disney board of directors.
Close friends of Lindquist said they thought it fitting that he picked Mickey Mouse’s birthday to leave the company.
“Disney’s been his whole life,” said Bill Lund, a partner with real estate consulting firm L&K; Partners in Costa Mesa, who has been friends with Lindquist for 33 years.
“It makes sense. You have to know him; he is very happy person. It’s an appropriate day for him to retire on,” he said.
On Wednesday, Lindquist admitted that he secretly chose Nov. 18 about a year ago.
“I knew if I didn’t set a date, I’d never do it,” he said. “So when I was thinking of a date, this seemed like a natural. . . . (Mickey) will be a senior a citizen too.”
Times correspondent Terry Spencer contributed to this story.