John Curry, Disney World’s first hotel employee, dies at 78

Walt Disney World's first-ever hotel employee died Friday.

John Foster Curry, 78, was hired by Walt Disney in August 1966 as the company's hotel planner, according to David Koenig, author of Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World.

Curry helped conceive of, construct and operate the Contemporary and Polynesian resorts at the Central Florida theme park. He researched hotels across the country, worked with U.S. Steel Corp. on the construction and hired the first executive hotel staffs.

"He was a kind, generous man," Koenig said Saturday in a telephone interview. "Always with wonderful stories. He was a modest person, too."

Born in Yosemite National Park at Camp Baldy, which was one of a number of park properties his parents operated, Curry grew up helping run the operations after his father died at an early age.

Disney met Curry in the 1960s at Yosemite, where Disney was scouting opportunities to build a Mineral King hotel and ski park. When he learned the Curry family was interested in selling their properties, Disney hired Curry, Koenig said.

Working with architects, Curry and his team laid groundwork for five Orlando hotels, including three that were never built: the Asian, the Venetian and the Persian. Curry left Orlando in 1972 for Hilton Head, S.C., and soon became president of his own condominium-development-consulting firm. He also is known for, among other things, helping found the Hilton Head Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Longtime family friend David Ames described Curry as a selfless community leader with an affection for flying and the water.

"At the youngest age he was introduced to service for others, and I think that might be a hallmark of John's," he said.

He is survived by Valerie Curry, his wife of 36 years, three sons and two grandchildren. Services are Monday at 2 p.m. in the First Presbyterian Church in Hilton Head.


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