Charlie Ridgway was behind many of Disney’s most iconic moments.
He helped coordinate media coverage of the opening of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in 1971, along with the openings of Epcot, what is now Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. For more than 40 years, if you were in the media and covered Disney, you knew Ridgway and his unmatched personality.
He graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in journalism and served in World War II. A former reporter, Ridgway covered the opening of Disneyland in California in 1955 for the Los Angeles Mirror News. A few years later, he’d join the team and help promote the park and large openings across the globe.
He was behind the iconic LIFE Magazine cover showing nearly 3,000 cast members in front of Cinderella Castle during the opening of Magic Kingdom.
He also was behind some of the more quirky and creative ideas to promote the park over the years. Ahead of Donald Duck’s 50th birthday, Ridgway arranged for the character to introduce himself to baby ducklings at birth. The ducklings formed an attachment so they would follow Donald around the park. They also appeared on a float for the birthday celebration, wearing birthday hats.
He even rubbed shoulders with Walt Disney himself over the years. Both he and Walt agreed their favorite part of the theme park giant was the guests, he told Disney’s fan club D23 in an interview.
“Watching people react to all the things we have is the most fun of all,” he said.
Ridgway was loved by all and former coworkers say he touched everyone who knew him.
“Charlie defined Disney public relations,” said Rick Sylvain, who was hired by Ridgway to join Disney’s public relations team in 1995. “He never lost his childlike enthusiasm for all things Disney. That enthusiasm was infectious. As a new recruit, you had two options: try to keep up with him or get out of the way.”
Ridgway was inducted in 1999 into The Disney Legends, a program that recognizes those who have made an extraordinary contribution to the company, his decades of work.
“Disney doesn’t throw around accolades lightly,” Sylvain said. “So being named a Disney Legend and having his name on a window of Main Street U.S.A. speaks to the esteem Disney held for Charlie.”
Walt Disney World Resort President George Kalogridis agreed, adding the legend will be missed.
“I had the pleasure of knowing Charlie Ridgway, and he was a true Disney legend who was known for his boundless creativity,” he said in a statement. “…He was beloved and respected, and he will be greatly missed by those who were fortunate enough to work with him.”
Ridgway was also honored in 2013 by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer for the decades of commitment to Central Florida. He declared July 26, 2013 as Charles Ridgway Day.
In a statement, Dyer said his legacy will live on in Central Florida.
“I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Charlie. My thoughts and prayers are with him, his family and friends during this difficult time. His legacy will live on in our community, especially through his work with Disney that helped make Orlando the most magical place on earth,” he said.
From the Orlando Sentinel