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Walt Disney Gave His Maid Shares Over The Years – And When She Died She Had A $9 Million Fortune

Thelma Pearl Howard

Thelma Pearl Howard was born in Southwick, Idaho in 1915. She grew up on her family farm with four brothers and sister. Sadly, the family lived in poverty. When she was just six-years-old, her mother died during childbirth. When she was in her late teens, she lost two of her siblings. This was a lot of grief for a girl so young. She never gave up on life and decided that she wanted more than farm life. After high school, she attended college at Washington State. She was forced to drop out after less than a year because she couldn’t afford the tuition. Rather than returning to the family farm, she moved to Los Angeles. There, she took odd jobs as a secretary, a waitress, and a cleaner.

Walt Disney’s Estate

In 1951, Thelma got a job as a housekeeper at Walt Disney’s Holmby Hill Estate in California. She lived on the property and was responsible for cleaning the home, which contained eight bedrooms and 17 bathrooms. The estate sat on 3.6-acres of land and had a tennis court, swimming pool, putting green, a gym, and a library. The pool itself was larger than the home that Thelma grew up in.

The Right Person For the Job

Before Thelma came along, Disney had trouble finding the right housekeeper. The woman who had her job before was great in the kitchen, but she never connected with Disney’s two children, Sharon and Diane. She never allowed the girls in the kitchen and forced them to stay in the bedrooms while she cleaned. Thelma was different. She adored the girls and often asked them to keep her company while she prepared three-course meals. When Diane was an adult in 1994, she told People Magazine that she and her sister spent all of their time with Thelma. She remembers drawing pictures in the kitchen while Thelma cooked.

Pleasing the Boss

Not only did Thelma make the girls happy, but she also kept Disney happy. She made sure that the refrigerator was always stocked with his favorite foods like hot dogs. He often ate them as appetizers before sitting down to a meal. He even fed one to his French poodle, Lady. Disney, his wife, and his daughters gave Thelma the nickname, Fou-Fou. Disney often referred to Thelma as “the real-life Mary Poppins.”

Not Quite

Thelma was not as prim and proper as the character made famous by Julie Andrews. Like Disney, she smoked like a chimney. She had a rough sounding voice and loved to play gin rummy. Disney’s grandson, Chris Miller, remembers Thelma fondly. He says that she and his grandfather had a lot in common, including their sense of humor and what they thought was best for the kids. This is why Thelma was a perfect fit for her job.

Disney’s Fortune

While Thelma was working for Disney, he continued to build his fortune. Cinderella, Treasure Island, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan were all box office hits and only increased his already colossal income. Things really took off when he opened his first theme park.

Thelma’s Wage

Thelma made as much money as a typical housekeeper. She benefited by living at the gorgeous estate, and there were other perks as well. For each of her birthdays working for Disney, she received shares in his movie company. The stock continued to grow, but Thelma never cashed them in as a sign of respect for her boss. To buy more shares for herself, she dipped into her savings. She never knew that her stocks would be worth so much. As each new movie came out, Thelma became richer and richer.

Disney’s Death

When Walt Disney passed away in 1966 from lung cancer, Thelma kept working as a maid at the estate until she retired in 1981. During all of this time, she never told anyone of her wealth. She retired to a two bedroom bungalow, even though she was worth millions.

Growing Old

Thelma spent her final years in a nursing home. The first one didn’t give her the care that she needed, so she dipped into her savings to pay for a better facility where she would have a private room. During this time, Disney’s daughter, Diane, visited her regularly. She even had fresh flowers sent to Thelma’s room every Monday. Thelma died in 1994, right before she turned 80. She was buried in a pink casket at Forest Lawn Cemetery, which overlooks Disney studios. It was the perfect place.

Reading the Will

When Thelma’s will was read, her loved ones were shocked to find out that she had millions of dollars in the bank. Walt Disney Gave His Maid Shares Over The Years – And When She Died She Had A $9 Million Fortune. Thelma decided to donate half of her fortune to charity when she died. The Thelma Pear Howard Foundation got most of the money, and it helps children from disadvantaged families. She wanted kids to have a better life than she had in Idaho. She left the rest of her fortune to her only son, who has a developmental disability.

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