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Sharing Memories of Roger Broggie Jr.
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by Paul Schnebelen
February 12, 2013
Paul Schnebelen writes about the Celebration of Life for former Imagineer Roger E. Broggie, Jr., who died in a tragic accident last December.

How do you sum up a person’s life in just a few words? It isn’t easy, but we still try. Every day in the newspapers, we see several obituaries, with a few brief sentences about people who have just passed on.  A few people who have done something especially noteworthy receive a larger obituary, maybe several paragraphs or even a page or two in length. An obituary tries to capture a little bit about what made someone special in a couple hundred words, but in the end it can only give a brief glimpse into the life of the person who’s left us. It’s up to those who knew that person to give us a fuller picture.

On December 21st of last year, Roger E. Broggie, Jr. passed away from injuries he sustained in a fall.   In the days that followed, Roger was the subject of several lengthy obituaries in the print media and online – and justifiably so. The son and namesake of the man many people acknowledge as “Walt Disney’s first Imagineer”, Roger had his own impressive list of accomplishments, such as working on the Audio-Animatronic figures for “Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln”, “it’s a small world”, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and “The Haunted Mansion”;  helping to create and build Rose Parade floats; and even making it possible for a spaceship to visit the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics.   The obituaries had some wonderful things to say about Roger and his life, but they really only told a small part of his story. On February 2nd in Santa Clarita, California, Roger’s family and friends gathered to remember him, and celebrate his life, and in so doing gave those of us who didn’t know Roger as well the chance to learn much more of his story.

Roger’s son Richard was the first speaker at the life celebration, and he began by telling the audience about Roger’s humility. Richard told us that Roger had done and built “a lot of cool stuff” in his life, for Disney and for others, but that it wasn’t in his nature to brag or boast about what he had done. While Roger loved Disney and all that he had done for the company, Roger would have preferred that someone ask him about his family or one of his many passions, like fishing, trains, or cars.  Roger was not the type that enjoyed dressing up in a suit and tie; a formal ceremony, said Richard, “would have been the last thing that he wanted us to do for him…and with that said, we’re going to do it anyway”.  A photograph of Roger dressed in a tie that was placed on the stage elicited a few jovial comments from the attendees.

In addition to “humble”, another word that Richard said best described Roger was “helpful”. Richard said that Roger would do anything for anyone, at any time, sometimes without even being asked. Roger was the kind of person who would show up with friends from a car club he was in and build a wheelchair ramp for another friend’s wife. When the local school decided that they didn’t have the money to continue offering shop classes, Roger and his friends offered to run the shop classes for free.  Roger could always be counted on to volunteer his time for his children’s Scout troops and the PTA. Once he even built a full-size rocket as a promotional item for a PTA fundraiser!

Richard next told us about Roger, the devoted animal lover. There were always animals at the Broggie house - cats and dogs, of course, but also rabbits, hamsters, birds, fish, snakes, chipmunks (named Chip and Dale, naturally), and even more unusual animals like spider monkeys and mealworms. One time, Roger became a bee keeper, and he would rescue bees that had fallen into the pool. Richard believed that if his father ever had the chance to live his life again, he probably would have done it as a farmer.

Richard told us about how Roger’s creativity wasn’t limited to his time at work. Roger’s garage was also his personal workshop, as well as the fix-it shop for the neighborhood. He would gladly work with his children on various woodworking and mechanical projects for school and for their Scout troops. Roger would help create costumes for himself and his children, and the kids would often win costume contests. For the holidays, Roger would buy live trees and plant them in his yard; one year; Roger decided to be different and plant a Christmas fern instead!    Once, Roger’s garage was temporarily home to a couple of Volkswagen Beetles that he was modifying for use as “Herbie” in a Disney on Ice show; Richard said that his father building a couple of Love Bugs in his garage didn’t strike the kids as unusual! 

Roger and his family loved to throw parties. At the children’s birthday parties, the Broggie family would set up a projector and a screen in their living room and invite friends and neighbors to watch Disney movies; other parties included weddings, pool parties, a luau that featured a pig that was roasted in a pit in the backyard, and a birthday celebration that featured appearances by a couple of gorillas and a belly dancer (it’s a long story).

Finally, Richard said that his father never had an unkind word to say about others, nor did others have unkind things to say to him. He did share that there was one way to upset his father, though: Talk about doing a “Mickey Mouse job”.  Roger could never understand how someone could associate the term “Mickey Mouse” with low-quality work. As far as he was concerned, when something was done in a Mickey Mouse way, there was no better way to do it.

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