Walt Disney Archives founder and Disney Legend Dave Smith died today in Burbank, California at age 78. His four-decade career at The Walt Disney Company was dedicated to preserving Disney’s treasures from film, television, theme parks, and beyond.
Named a Disney Legend in 2007, Smith shared his wide knowledge of the company’s rich history in books and through his popular magazine column, “Ask Dave.”
“I’m deeply saddened to learn of Dave Smith’s passing,” said Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company. “He was the unsung hero of Disney’s history who, as our first archivist, spent 40 years rescuing countless documents and artifacts from obscurity, investing endless hours restoring and preserving these priceless pieces of our legacy, and putting them in context to tell our story. Dave was a true Disney Legend, and we are indebted to him for building such an enduring, tangible connection to our past that continues to inspire our future.”
Smith was hired in 1970 by Walt’s brother—and The Walt Disney Company co-founder—Roy O. Disney, and his first responsibility was cataloguing every item inside Walt’s office suite, which had been left untouched after Walt’s passing four years prior.
Smith’s meticulously detailed notes and records saw the Archives able to restore the suite in 2015. During his time as Disney’s chief archivist, Smith grew the Archives from a one-person department. He was regarded by fans and historians as the final authority on matters of Disney history, and was an active member of the Society of California Archivists.
He also served from 1980 to 2001 as executive director of the Manuscript Society, an international association of collectors, dealers, librarians, archivists, and others interested in manuscript material.
Born and raised in Pasadena, California, Smith was the child of librarians and educators. He earned a B.A. in history and a Master’s Degree in Library Science from the University of California at Berkeley. Before coming to Disney, he gained library and archives experience working in the Manuscript Department of the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, interning at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and serving on the staff of the Research Library at U.C.L.A.
Smith wrote extensively about Disney history, with regular columns in Disney fan publications and websites, as well as authoring, co-authoring, and editing numerous articles and books on Disney history, including the official Disney encyclopedia Disney A to Z, Disney: The First 100 Years, The Quotable Walt Disney, Disney Trivia from the Vault, andThe Ultimate Disney Trivia Books 1, 2, 3, and 4.
In October 2007, Smith was honored with the Disney Legend Award. He retired in 2010 after his 40th anniversary with The Walt Disney Company and continued working for the next nine years as a consultant with title of chief archivist emeritus.
No information was available on survivors or memorial plans.
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