“I had a hard time not calling him ‘sir,’” Lucille Martin recalled of her days in Walt Disney’s office. “I’d say, ‘Yes, sir,’ and he’d say, smiling, ‘Yes, Walt.’ After about a week he gave me a drawing of a girl carrying a sign that read ‘DOWN WITH SIR.’ I kept it on my intercom the whole time I worked for him. I still have it.”
Dorothy Lucille Martin was born on August 10, 1922. She never expected to work for Walt Disney; in fact, the Zeigler, Illinois native planned to be a teacher, and had attended Southern Illinois Normal University and earned her state teaching credential there.
But when the young single mother of a 5- and 10-year-old moved to California, her Illinois credential was not valid. She chose to put her secretarial skill to work instead, and look for work—against her children’s wishes. “What if I worked for Disney?” she asked. “Oh, that’s different!”
So, one Friday in September of 1964, a few weeks after the world premiere of Mary Poppins, Lucille typed up a resume and stopped by the Studio to inquire about work. She was hired on the spot. Lucille started in the Secretarial Pool the following Monday, and was immediately sent to work for Donovan Moye in Publicity; she never dipped her toes in the pool again. She worked briefly for the vice president of Labor Relations, Bonar Dyer, and in early 1965 was called to report to Walt’s office. “I thought they had the wrong person!” Lucille laughed.
“Walt made me feel comfortable right away,” Lucille recalled fondly. “He saw himself as an ordinary guy.” Walt took special care of his office staff, and Lucille remembered many kindnesses: “I had never flown on a plane, and one day when Walt was going to San Diego with a press group, he closed the office so I could have my first plane ride.”
“Another time, there were two empty seats on the plane to New York City, and he let my co-worker Tommie Wilck and I go to New York for the weekend, because he knew I had never been to New York! It was fun on Monday to tell people I ‘went to New York for dinner.’ Such a thing was unheard of 40 years ago.”
After Walt’s death, Lucille stayed on for a year to help close his office, then worked for Ron Miller in the Studio, moving with him as he ascended to president of the Company in 1980 and CEO in 1983. After Ron retired in 1984, Lucille was asked to stay on in Michael Eisner’s office. “Lucille embodies that rare combination of loyalty, dedication, talent, tact, and trust so necessary to the smooth operation of an executive staff,” Michael later said.
In 1995, Lucille was promoted to vice president and special assistant to The Walt Disney Company Board of Directors. In this role, she served as a liaison between Company management and the Board. “It was quite a surprise,” Lucille said of her promotion. “I had no idea at all, and I loved it, naturally.” She retired from this position in January 2006.
“But I have enjoyed all my days at Disney,” Lucille later said. “When Michael came, I was surprised he wanted me to stay on as his assistant. When I got my 20-year service award, he made a speech about how glad he was to be at Disney. Then he twinkled—like Walt—and added ‘And I got Lucille!’ Everyone applauded, and I felt wonderful!”
Lucille Martin passed away on October 24, 2012, in Studio City, California.