Walt’s Partner in Life, Lillian Marie Disney

Walt Disney had many people over the years that supported his plans and ideas, but I don’t think anyone could have supported him more than Lillian Marie Bounds.  On this date, in 1899 Lillian Marie Bounds was born in Spalding, Idaho.  Eventually Miss Bounds would become Mrs. Disney and Walt’s partner in life.

Lillian and Walt

Lillian grew up in Lapwai, Idaho, on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation where her father worked as a blacksmith and federal marshal. Lillian moved to California in 1923 to join her sister Hazel who was already living in Los  Angeles. She took a job at the new Disney Studios, where she worked first as a secretary and then an ink artist.

Lillian and Walt were married on July 13, 1925 in Idaho.   Since Lillian’s father was deceased, her uncle who was chief of the Lewiston Fire Department gave the bride away. She wore a dress which she had made herself. Her cousin recalled that she giggled nervously throughout the service.

During their life together, Lillian and Walt had two daughters, Diane Marie Disney, born December 18, 1933, and Sharon Mae Disney, born December 31, 1936, the latter of whom was adopted. Lillian had seven grandchildren—Chris Miller, Joanna Miller, Tamara Scheer, Jennifer Miller-Goff, Walter Elias Disney Miller, Ronald Miller and Patrick Miller—from her daughter Diane and son-in-law Ronald Miller, and three grandchildren—Victoria Brown, Brad Lund and Michelle Lund—from her daughter Sharon. Lillian is the aunt of Roy Edward Disney.

Lillian and Walt’s life together lasted 41 years.  Of all the people that helped Walt achieve all he did, there could not have been a better support system than Lillian.  To her credit, she worked as an ink artist on the film Plane Crazy. Lillian is credited with having named the most famous mouse, Mickey.  It was during a train trip from New York to California in 1928. Walt showed a drawing of the cartoon mouse to his wife and told her that he was going to name it “Mortimer Mouse.” Lillian replied that the name sounded “too pompous” and she was very proud to have suggested the name “Mickey Mouse” instead of Mortimer.

Walt named one of the Disneyland Railroad cars the “Lilly Belle” in her honor, and the Walt Disney World Railroad has a locomotive named “Lilly Belle”, where each locomotive is named for someone who greatly contributed to the Walt Disney Company. Walt Disney Imagineering created “The Empress Lilly”, a paddle steamer replica, at Walt Disney World in Downtown Disney (Florida) and Lillian christened it on May 1, 1977. Lillian was inducted into the Disney Legends in 2003.

Lillian remarried in 1969 to John L. Truyens whom she was with till his death in 1981. In the 1990s, reflecting on her 41-year marriage to Walt Disney, she said, “We shared a wonderful, exciting life, and we loved every minute of it. He was a wonderful husband to me, and wonderful and joyful father and grandfather.”

Sadly, Lillian Disney suffered a stroke on December 15, 1997, exactly 31 years after the death of her first husband, Walt.  She died the following morning at her home, at the age of 98,  2 months before her 99th birthday and is buried with Walt.

As anyone who is married knows, your spouse is your number 1 support system.  The person you turn to for everything good or bad.  I have no doubt this was the same for Lillian and Walt.  She was the one who most likely heard all his wants and desires.  I’m sure when things weren’t going the way he wanted, Walt turned to her.  We often celebrate Walt’s life, Roy’s life, the Nine old men, even Mickey’s but I thought it as important to celebrate the life of this amazing woman who was a key in the Disney empire.

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