He even helped oversee the opening of Florida’s Epcot Center, which at
the time was the largest private land development project ever. Over
time, this slim 6-foot man, who was not physically intimidating but was a
tower of intellectual curiosity and a fierce advocate for his
positions, became a confidant to some of the biggest names in Southern
California business: Donald Bren, Walt Disney, Michael Eisner, Frank
Wells, Dan Aldrich and Gary Hunt all sought his counsel.
it was his vision for the fertile basin of lemon and avocado trees and
ranchland that is now Irvine that may have been Watson’s greatest work.
“When the master plan for the Irvine Ranch was nothing more than a
dream, Ray brought the dream into focus,” Irvine Company Chairman Bren
said in a statement after Watson’s passing.
Larry Thomas, a
former executive at the company, may have framed Watson’s legacy best:
“Virtually everyone who has bought a home on the Irvine Ranch, rented an
apartment, opened a retail store or just frequented one owes some
measure of appreciation to Ray for spearheading the planning effort that
set an enduring template that the Irvine Company followed as it
transitioned from an agriculture and cattle ranch to a sophisticated
If the always friendly and
approachable Watson were reading this, he might have taken exception
with one word from his friend. As Watson told the Metropolitan Journal
(now OC METRO) in 1992 on the eve of the city’s 20th anniversary, Irvine
is not “suburban.”
“Suburbs are a place from which you
commute to work,” Watson said. “The Irvine Company’s plan was to build a
place that had jobs, schools, houses, civic pride and identity.”
Mr. Watson, I believe you accomplished your mission.