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Lillian Disney Dies Philanthropist Widow Of Walt Disney Remembered Her Idaho Roots

From Staff And Wire Reports

Lillian Bounds Disney, the woman who gave a world-famous cartoon mouse his name, has died. She was 98.

Disney died Tuesday in her sleep at her Los Angeles home. She had suffered a stroke on Monday, 31 years to the day from the death of her innovative animator husband, Walt Disney, on Dec. 15, 1966.

The death of the philanthropist who once was a Lapwai, Idaho, schoolgirl was met with sadness Wednesday on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation.

“We’re very sorry to hear that news,” said Doug Nash, a tribal attorney.

He recalled Lillian Disney’s 1996 contribution of $100,000 to the tribe, which helped kick off a successful $608,100 fund-raising drive to buy back historic tribal artifacts.

The beaded dresses, moccasins and other examples of Nez Perce handiwork had been sold to Henry Spalding in 1846.

As a child, Lillian Bounds lived for awhile in the community of Spalding, where she was born. Her father was a blacksmith who was among white people working for the Indian agency, said Mylie Lawyer of Lapwai.

When the agency office moved to Lapwai, Lillian’s father followed. Lawyer, 85, grew up a block away from the Bounds family and is one of the few people who remember them.

The Bounds’ house on Third Street is still standing and still occupied, she said.

When Lillian Disney made the donation that helped save the tribe’s artifacts, a spokesman for her charitable foundation said: “She has very warm memories of growing up in the Spalding area and going to government schools in Lapwai with many Native Americans. She’d like to reach back and support her roots,” said Bob Wilson.

In the 1980s, she donated $20,000 worth of playground equipment after a local school burned; and another $200,000 to build locker rooms, rest rooms and a concession stand for the Lapwai school’s new track.

She also gave money to the University of Idaho to fund college scholarships for Indian students.

Lillian Bounds played basketball on the Lapwai High School girls’ team in 1917. After graduating, she and her sister left for Los Angeles. Lillian worked as an “inker” of celluloid frames at a film studio, where she met Walt Disney.

The two were married in Lewiston on July 13, 1925.

Lillian Disney’s first major contribution to the Walt Disney entertainment empire occurred in the 1920s as the young couple were riding on a train from New York to Los Angeles. Hoping to turn around a serious business setback, Walt Disney came up with a new character whom he proposed to call “Mortimer Mouse.”

“Not Mortimer,” his quiet wife replied. “It’s too formal. How about Mickey?”

Mickey Mouse became the company’s international symbol. When President Nixon handed the new widow a gold Commemorative Medal honoring her husband at a White House ceremony shortly after his death, it was etched with a profile of Walt Disney on one side and Mickey Mouse on the reverse.

“Mrs. Disney was a full-time partner to Walt and we are all grateful for her contributions in the creation of Mickey Mouse and the Disney company and for the example she set for family life and community service,” Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael D. Eisner said Wednesday.

Always supportive of the arts, Lillian Disney on May 13, 1987, announced the memorial she envisioned for her husband - a world-class concert hall for the city where Disney had flourished. She handed the Music Center of Los Angeles County $50 million to build the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Lillian Disney’s requirements were simple - a hall for the masses, not the elite, and, because of her love of music and flowers, perfect acoustics and a garden.

The generous donation stemmed from the $47 million set aside for an unspecified charitable gift in 1982 when the family company, Retlaw Enterprises, sold the rights to Walt Disney’s name and likeness to the Walt Disney Co.

Her gift for the new home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which by now has grown to more than $100 million, earned her a cultural award in 1988 from the Los Angeles Headquarters City Association.

The concert hall project has faced delays and increasing cost estimates. Construction is now scheduled to begin next year with the grand opening pegged for 2001.

Lillian Bounds was born the 10th and last child in the music-loving family of Willard and Jeanette Short Bounds.

She moved to Los Angeles to join her older sister Hazel in 1923 and, through a friend, got a job at the new Walt Disney Studio.

For 41 years, Lillian Disney remained the publicity-shy helpmate, raising their two daughters, and serving as sounding board for her husband’s ideas for characters and stories.

It was only after Walt Disney’s death that she ventured into the community to support causes for young people and the arts. She helped other family members in creating the California Institute of the Arts and operated a foundation that distributed charitable gifts.

In 1990, Lillian Disney received the Governor’s Award for the Arts in recognition of her contributions to the arts throughout California.

Disney is survived by Disney Miller, of Napa, Calif.; 10 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. A second daughter, Sharon Disney Lund, died of cancer in 1993. No funeral service will be conducted.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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