Walt Disney’s Housekeeper Died with an Amazing Secret

Split screen - Young Walt on one side, grown up Walt on other
Credit: Disney Family Archives

Throughout his life, Walt Disney taught all of us to live our dreams. He passed that belief on to everyone around him, and it continues to live on through Disneyland and his final dream, Walt Disney World.

The Housekeeper

Disney was also incredibly generous to those around him, none more so than the Disney Family’s live-in housekeeper, Thelma Howard. But Howard’s story, before and after the Disney family, is something that not even Walt could have dreamed up.

Disney Housekeeper's Secret


Howard grew up in Idaho. Her mother died in childbirth when she was six, and that same year, her older sister burned to death in a cooking accident. Howard left Idaho and went to business school in Washington before making her way to Los Angeles, where she did office work and cleaned houses.

In 1951, she was hired as a live-in housekeeper, cook, and nanny at the Disney home. She would stay in that position for the next 30 years.

Howard quickly endeared herself to the Disney children, but Walt loved her the most. She had to ensure that every detail of the house was perfect, including stocking the fridge with hot dogs.

Disney Housekeeper's Secret

Every night when he got home from the office, Disney would have two cold hot dogs, one for himself and one for the dog. Because of her attention to detail and magical way with children, Disney called her “the real-life Mary Poppins.”

Howard stayed with the Disney family until 1981, when her body started breaking down. She died in 1994. She was buried in a pink casket overlooking the Disney Studios at Forest Lawn Cemetery in the Hollywood Hills.

The Secret

But when Howard died, she had a secret that the world would only learn about after she had passed. Every Christmas, Walt Disney would give her Walt Disney Company stock. Because of her devotion to the Disney family, she held on to every share of stock until her death.

When Howard died, she owned 192,755 shares of the Walt Disney Company. She was worth more than $9 million at the time of her death. Today, those shares would be worth nearly $200 million.

Disney Housekeeper's Secret

Howard left half of her fortune to create the Thelma Pearl Howard Foundation. The Foundation helps to fund art-based enrichment programs for school-aged kids. In the nearly 30 years since it was formed, the Foundation has donated more than $4 million.

Disney’s generosity lives on through Thelma Howard. Now they are both helping children’s dreams come true.

This post originally appeared on

About Rick Lye

Rick is an avid Disney fan. He first went to Disney World in 1986 with his parents and has been hooked ever since. Rick is married to another Disney fan and is in the process of turning his two children into fans as well. When he is not creating new Disney adventures, he loves to watch the New York Yankees and hang out with his dog, Buster. In the fall, you will catch him cheering for his beloved NY Giants.