Orange County Business Journal

Ray Watson Passes; Key Planner for Irvine Co., Former Disney Chair

Mark Mueller Monday, October 22, 2012

Raymond L. Watson, a former Irvine Company president and a board member of Walt Disney Co. for more than 30 years, passed away on Saturday from complications of Parkinson's disease, his family announced. He was 86.

Watson was the first planner and architect for Newport Beach-based Irvine Co., and designed some of the first villages for the city of Irvine. He also played a key part in the creation of the University of California, Irvine.

“When the master plan for the Irvine Ranch was nothing more than a dream, Ray brought that dream into focus and helped create something very special and unprecedented,” Irvine Co. chairman Donald Bren said.

In 1960 Watson joined Irvine Co., “a company six months earlier I had never heard of,” he told the Business Journal in 2006.

“But to an architect/planner, the opportunity to work for a company that owned 93,000 acres debt-free and proposing to build a new town around a new University of California campus was overwhelming,” said Watson, who also worked on the development of Fashion Island and Newport Center in Newport Beach.

Watson went on to serve as president of Irvine Co. in the 1970s, and as vice chairman for the developer from 1986 to 2003.

As a board member of Los Angeles-based Walt Disney Co., Watson helped oversee the 1982 opening of Florida’s Epcot Center, which at the time was touted as the largest private land development project ever.

Watson joined the board of Walt Disney Co. in 1974, and served as chairman of the board of the company during a nine-month stretch in 1983 and 1984, a period that saw him help fend off a pair of hostile takeover attempts. He retired from the Disney board in 2004.

“Our father was passionate about his work and could never imagine doing anything else professionally,” son David Watson said.

A memorial service for Ray Watson is tentatively planned for Nov. 11 in the Irvine area.