Former Disney theme parks chairman Dick Nunis passes away

December 13, 2023, 3:32 PM · Disney Legend and longtime Disney theme parks leader Dick Nunis has passed away. He as 91.

A USC football teammate of Walt Disney's son-in-law (and future Disney CEO), Ron Miller, Dick was hired as an orientation training instructor for Disneyland two months before the park's opening in 1955. He worked his way up Disneyland management over the next two decades and was named executive vice president of Walt Disney World and Disneyland when the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971. In 1980, Dick became President of Disney's Outdoor Recreation Division, the predecessor of what is now the Disney Experiences segment. In 1999, he retired as chairman of what by then was called Walt Disney Attractions.

Dick Nunis
Dick Nunis. Photo courtesy Disney

During his time with the company, Disney's theme park division expanded from a single park in California to seven around the world, with construction underway on three other parks.

"Dick took the values and philosophies he learned directly from Walt and incorporated them into everything he did at Disney," Disney CEO Bob Iger said. "We are grateful for his many achievements and we extend our deepest sympathies to his family and loved ones."

"On behalf of every Cast Member, Crew Member, Imagineer and employee of Disney Experiences, I want to express my gratitude to Disney Legend Dick Nunis and my condolences to his family following the sad news of his passing," Disney Experiences Chairman Josh D’Amaro said. "Dick's impact on our theme parks business is everlasting. Along with our founder, Walt Disney, Dick helped shape our business, create happiness for millions of families around the world and set a standard that an entire industry must now live up to."

I first met Dick while working my one and only shift at the old Diamond Horseshoe Jamboree at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. I can't recall anything more than exchanging a quick greeting with him, but I vividly remember the dressing down I got from my lead immediately after, for leaning on a counter while talking with his boss' boss' boss' boss' boss. But I was just trying to get in closer to hear what Dick was saying, over the loud music of the show!

I met Dick again after a 2016 panel with several IAAPA Hall of Fame members. [See Top 10 career lessons from theme park industry Hall of Famers.] Dick was a 2007 inductee, and he urged the audience to be persistent, focused and to maintain a desire to keep learning about their jobs and their industry.

"Do the best job you can with the job you are given to do," he said. "Those who look over the hill never climb the mountain."

Replies (4)

December 14, 2023 at 9:44 AM

When I was first a CM (1982-1987) Mr. Nunis was an indelible part of Walt Disney World's personality. He name was always present -- along with other local execs like Charlie Ridgeway or Bob Allen. I met him on two occasions -- once on the Jungle Cruise dock. I remember he was smiling and kind.

Along with people like Bob Matheison, he was a straight up operations guy. Made the trains (and busses, boats, flying elephants) run on time.

Rest peacefully, sir.

December 14, 2023 at 1:03 PM

Nunis was probably the person who put in the most day to day effort to keep Walt’s spirit alive as long as he could.

December 14, 2023 at 4:02 PM

With Dick's passing, who else is left who worked with Walt on the Disneyland opening back in 1955? Is Bob Gurr the last?

December 14, 2023 at 5:34 PM

Robert, I think Bob Gurr is the last. I know there was a chef who came around opening or 1956 and he retired in 2016. I’m not sure if he’s still around or not. While probably not joining WDI in 1955, Tania McKnight Morris, who designed the iconic Haunted Mansion wallpaper is still alive. But I believe she did work with Walt!

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