Pasadena-Born 'Disney Legend' Dave Smith, Chief Preserver of Disney Company's History, Artifacts, Dead at 78

Published : Tuesday, February 19, 2019 | 6:09 AM

Pasadena-born Dave Rollin Smith founded the Walt Disney Archives and was the Disney Company’s chief archivist for over 40 years. Image courtesy The Walt Disney Co.

Pasadena-born Dave Rollin Smith, who founded the Walt Disney Archives and was the Disney Company’s chief archivist for over 40 years, passed away last Friday in Burbank. He was 78.

In a remembrance published Friday, the Walt Disney Company said Smith, who was born on October 13, 1940 in Pasadena, dedicated his four-decade career at The Walt Disney Company to preserving Disney’s precious treasures from film, television, theme parks, and beyond.

Fans around the world loved Smith, who was named a Disney Legend in 2007, for his wide knowledge of the company’s rich history, which he shared in books and through his popular magazine column “Ask Dave.”

“I’m deeply saddened to learn of Dave Smith’s passing,” Bob Iger, Walt Disney Chairman and CEO, said in the company remembrance. “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.”

Roy O. Disney, Walt’s brother and the company’s co-founder, hired Smith in 1970 to start cataloguing every item inside Walt’s office suite, which had been left untouched after Walt’s passing four years prior. With Smith’s meticulously detailed notes and records, the Archives was able to restore the suite in 2015, and Disney employees today are able to visit and draw inspiration from this remarkable space.

During his time as Disney’s Chief Archivist, Smith grew the Archives from a simple one-person department to a model among corporate archives, the company said. 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.

Smith 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.

The child of librarians and educators, Smith 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, interning at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and serving on the staff of the Research Library at UCLA.

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,” and “The Ultimate Disney Trivia Books 1, 2, 3, and 4.”

A Burbank resident, Smith retired in 2010 after his 40th anniversary with The Walt Disney Company and continued working for the next nine years as a consultant for the Company, with the title of Chief Archivist Emeritus.

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