Disney Legend, radio broadcaster, sports announcer, Highland Cattle rancher, family patriarch Bob Matheison died on Jan. 5, 2020. The cause was a sudden brain hemorrhage.
Born Jan. 30, 1934, in Portland, Oregon, Bob graduated Hayward High School (1951) and University of Southern California (1955) with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. He married his sweetheart, Kathy Palmer Matheison, in 1956, then enlisted and served two years with the U.S. Army at Fort Hood, Texas, as the chief of the radio-television branch of the information office. Following that, he worked at radio station WFAA in Dallas, Texas, broadcasting news, sports and special events.
In 1960, Bob received a call from an old college friend, Tommy Walker, then in charge of Disneyland Entertainment, who offered him a job at Disneyland as a sound coordinator. He was in the process of doing an interview with Sen. J. William Fulbright when the call came from Walker.
Bob accepted the position responsible for programming anything audible to guests, ranging from recorded music to teaching Jungle Cruise guides how to speak into their microphones. Bob then became manager of Guest Relations and, later, helped produce live radio and television broadcasts from Disneyland.
In 1964, Walt Disney personally selected Bob to manage the four Disney attractions, including It’s a Small World, at the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair. In this new role, he had to work with New York personalities and train them to give guest service the Disney way. Having essentially led the Disney operation on the East Coast, Bob returned to California with key knowledge for Walt’s next big venture, “The Florida Project.”
As head of the research and development team for Walt Disney World, he presented facts and recommendations to Walt about sizing, facilities, among other factors, and helped develop a 13-week executive training program for Walt Disney World. This was the forerunner of Disney’s current corporate training program.
In 1969, Bob was named director of operations at Disneyland and, a year later, he carried the title to Florida. There, he outlined an operating plan for the new theme park. He recalled the opening of Walt Disney World on Oct. 1, 1971: “We didn’t want to open to a big crowd, so we opened after school started. The day after Thanksgiving, however, we backed traffic up almost to Orlando.”
He was promoted to Vice President of Operations in 1972 and was bumped up to Vice President of the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT in 1984. Three years later, Bob was promoted to Executive Vice President of Parks, Walt Disney World.
Bob never considered his contributions to be “legendary,” but instead pointed to his fellow employees. “I got to work with people who believed in loyalty, camaraderie and sticking it out through good days and bad days,” he said. “No one person could do everything by himself or herself. It was a team effort.”
Bob is celebrated with a window on Main Street, U.S.A. at the Magic Kingdom that reads: Community Service Recruitment Center; Bob Matheison; Quality, Integrity & Dedication.
Bob Matheison retired in February 1994, after 34 years with The Walt Disney Company.
He was named a Disney Legend in 1996.
Bob pursued his love of sports announcing throughout and after his 34 years with Disney. He was the stadium announcer “voice” of the California Angels, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the USC Trojans basketball team. He called the games for West Orange High School in the 1970s and ’80s and spent 30 years volunteering his time with Florida Citrus Sports. Its bowl games were blessed with his “golden pipes” handling the public address announcing duties.
“Bob has not only served as the voice of Orlando’s bowl games, but as a Past President of Florida Citrus Sports and a community leader for the past 30 years,” said FCSports CEO Steve Hogan. “He’s been an important part of what makes hosting college football bowl games a special experience for all involved.”
In retirement, Bob and Kathy split their time between Florida and western North Carolina, where he began a second career as a gentleman rancher raising Scottish Highland cattle. The M3 Ranch grew to 100 head of cattle on 100 acres in the Smoky Mountains. He enjoyed showing his prized cows at Scottish Highland festivals throughout the country and welcomed all visitors to his mountain paradise.
Nothing mattered more to Bob than the love and well-being of his family. Kathy, his wife of 47 years, passed away in 2004, and his daughter Wendy May Andrew in 2016. He was blessed to fall in love and marry a second time with Arra Mae Matheison, who shared a 50-year friendship with Bob and Kathy, as well as a lengthy Disney career. Bob and Arra Mae enjoyed 15 warm and wonderful years of travel, ranching and family growth.
He is survived by Arra Mae; and his daughters, Cindy Matheison (Paul Schubert) and Molly Sidwell (Rob Sidwell); son, Rob Matheison (Sandy Matheison); son-in-law, Michael Andrew; 10 grandchildren, Jake, Nicholas, Bobby, Kirk, Xander, Reid, Palmer, Marissa, Graeme and Quinn; and Arra Mae’s children and grandchildren – who celebrated a warm and loving family Christmas with Bob at the M3 Ranch house one week before his passing.
Arrangements: Private family burial service Sunday. Welcome friends and family to a Celebration of Life – TBA.
In lieu of flowers, please consider donations to: ECHONet.org (Wendy Andrew Memorial Fund), The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation, National Wildlife Federation or Florida Audubon Society.