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He Lives In Us

When Roy Disney died a few weeks ago, the world lamented the loss of a friend, a father figure, and one of the greatest benefactors the sport has ever known.  The thousands of us that he personally touched in the sport will miss him acutely.   While a moment of grieving is appropriate and healthy, the time has now come for all of us to act as Roy taught and inspired us in a manner he hoped we could achieve, to be bigger and better than we ever thought possible.

I had the pleasure, privilege and honor to attend the private family burial at sea and celebration of Roy’s life at Newport Harbor YC this past Saturday.  The day was perfect, as Genny Tulloch said in her touching statement the day Roy died, it was “Roy Weather”.  As Jerry Kirby said during his outstanding commentary at the celebration, it was as if Roy “cued nature”.  The day dawned warm and dry, not a cloud in the sky initially.  As we proceeded out the harbor aboard LJ Edgecomb’s boat, one of the non-sailing family members asked if they were going to get sea-sick when the boat went out of the harbor.  Not a chance, the water was like glass, Roy wouldn’t have had it any other way for his friends and family.  The two current “Pyewacket’s”, SC 70 was full of “Pyewacket” crew, the RP 60 was full of “Morning Light” crew. “Windward Passage” was there to carry the extra crew members and friends of those two teams.  NHYC Commodore Brad Avery’s boat “Galeta” carried the Disney family and Roy to his final resting place off of Newport Beach.

A traditional Hawaiian ceremony was conducted by Danny Akaka, who gave the burial prayers. Danny played a large role in Roy’s life – he married Roy and Leslie in a traditional Hawaiian ceremony, and he also did all the “Pyewacket” and “Morning Light” blessings.  Brilliant and powerful in its simplicity, it was the perfectly appropriate way for a man who loved the sea to enter it for all eternity.  The multi-colored lei’s, flower petals and a few huge bright yellow daisies representing the sun were cast upon the water mixing with Roy’s ashes at the conclusion of the ceremony and would soon drift in the direction of Crystal Cove, which is as nice a beach as there is in all of southern California.  Anyone who ever visits Crystal Cove beach will forever feel the presence of Roy.  Residents of Crystal Cove will have a new best friend as a permanent neighbor.  He’ll always be there during beach walks.

Commodore Avery opened the celebration at NHYC with some fitting comments about what Roy had done for the sport.  Roy’s wife Leslie, Robbie Haines, his son Roy Pat, Stan Honey, Jerry Kirby, Rick Brent, Jesse Fielding, Doug Rastello, Sharon Green, Bill Lee and several others gave everyone a moment or two of their best stories about Roy.  It was sailors talking about a sailor and the mark he left on sailing, which was almost always about the positive mark he left on the individual.

On Sunday the 10th, what would have been Roy’s 80th birthday, 1,000 of us were invited to attend another celebration of life, this one focusing on the accomplishments Roy achieved for The Walt Disney Company.

The show opened with a wonderful Irish dance number featuring some young performers that gave the afternoon exactly the tone that Roy wanted; happy, energetic and upbeat.

Don Hahn, Producer of “The Lion King” among many other hits was the perfect MC for the celebration of Roy’s life. Bob Iger, Disney CEO was the first speaker of the show paying tribute to what Roy meant to the long term legacy of the Disney Company, and unveiled the plans for the Animation studio to be renamed in Roy’s honor.  Richard Sherman, who wrote what seems like the entire Walt Disney catalog of hit music was on stage telling a story about Roy, and then played “Feed the Birds” from “Mary Poppins”, joined by Jody Benson, the voice of Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” and many other Disney classics.   Dick Van Dyke came out and gave a wonderful and charming version of Disney Studio history, leaving the stage with his characteristic “Mary Poppins” leg whip.

Roy Pat gave a moving and thoughtful insight into Roy the dad and friend.  Stan Gold, who runs Roy’s private company Shamrock, talked about the man behind the business success.

Jerry Kirby and Rick Brent from “Pyewacket” again told sea stories about Roy with as professional a presentation on stage as they have when on a boat, while Jesse Fielding and a big portion of the “Morning Light” crew were there representing those two teams talking about what an impact sailing with Roy had on their lives, and how he had shaped their perspectives of what is important in the sport.  Leslie provided a video tribute which had been done when Roy retired from active racing.  The only thing missing in theater during the sea stories about Roy was the smell of his beloved Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches.

There were numerous stories from Disney Studio executives and animators about Roy.  There was a common theme, that this was an uncommonly talented yet humble man, who had a way of helping to inspire people to be more than they ever though possible.

Seeing the entire Academy Award nominated animation short “Destino” based on the work of Salvador Dali was a special privilege, as was the Firebird suite from “Fantasia 2000”.  These were two of the more important artistic special projects in which Roy played the lead role for the Walt Disney Company.

Peter Schneider, who was hand picked by Roy to run the Animation Department, gave wonderful history of how these two men revitalized that critically important aspect of The Walt Disney Company.

The celebration ended with “He Lives In You”, a song inspired by “The Lion King”.  It was sung by Alton White, who plays “Mufasa” in the Las Vegas based theater show.  Alton was accompanied by the 40 voices strong Biola University choir.  It was an incredibly powerful performance, a rafters shaking vocal in the El Capitan Theater, which summed up just about everything everyone had said about Roy for the past two days – while he won a lot of races, and did a great deal for the sport, the single most important thing he did for the sport was imparting his wisdom, dignity and integrity to thousands of us, doing the same for people in The Walt Disney Company, and everywhere else he went.

So, while we no longer have a great man to ask directly for guidance, Roy set the example and put the bar pretty high for all of us to help the sport achieve all it can be.  He did this knowing there are many people who will follow in his footsteps, and it won’t be just one person who replaces him, it will be hundreds, if not thousands of us.

The only question is this:  If you ever met or were otherwise inspired by Roy, what are you going to do be more than you thought you could be while helping making the sport better?  How much of Roy lives in you?

There is a very nice ABC News report on the Celebration of Life here . – Peter Huston.