(Written by Phil Hettema)
I’m certain I am only one of legions who feel a huge sense of loss in our lives with Marty Sklar’s passing. Personally, he was a seminal figure in my life long before I was ever fortunate enough to meet him. As a young boy growing up, I pored over the guide books he wrote about Disneyland, and as soon as I figured out what an “Imagineer” was, I was aware of Marty and his role as the leader of a very special band of magic makers. He personified not just that magic, but the optimism and incredibly high standard of quality that the world of Disney theme parks brought to life.
When I was finally old enough to get a job at Disneyland, the thought of being an Imagineer seemed further away than I could have ever hoped or dreamed for. When life’s strange twists brought me to Universal years later, it was always Disney storytelling and imagination… all those things that Marty exemplified… that was the standard of quality I aspired to and tried to live up to.
When I finally got a chance to meet Marty through the TEA, it was all I could do to even have a simple conversation with him – I felt like I was in the presence of this imposing and mythical legend, even though Marty was as easy to talk to as anyone I’ve ever met. I was truly awed by who he was and what he had accomplished. I really believe that much that we now think of as our “industry”, far beyond the walls of Disney’s theme parks, would simply not exist today without Marty’s influence and impact.
What a revelation, then, as I got to know Marty better, both through the THEA awards committee and eventually on the Ryman Arts board. I discovered that his greatest attribute was not all of his many accomplishments, but his remarkable humanity. He quietly demonstrated so many lessons… his never ending concern for education, for mentoring young people, and finding that perfect moment when one encouraging comment or piece of advice could become the spark that propelled a young person’s career or character.
Marty had the rare ability to treat everyone as a special individual... no doubt because he believed that to be so. It feels presumptuous to say it, but I feel like Marty was a kind of second father to me, and I have spoken to literally dozens over the past few days who feel the same way. He was a role model and an exemplar of living a meaningful life that I will carry with me and do my best to emulate.
The many ways Marty touched lives will continue to ripple through the world. Ryman Arts students now and far into the future will feel his presence through the program which he, his beloved partner Leah and other friends started together in Herb Ryman’s memory. I’m so honored to be able to play a small ongoing role with Ryman Arts, and pledge to keep that flame burning in Marty’s memory.
I mourn his passing, but celebrate his life. Mine is so much richer for having known him.